Enjoy outdoors, remain cautious of plants

Base Info
Sago Palm
Sago Palm

Enjoy outdoors, remain cautious of plants

by: Lance Cpl. Pete Sanders | .
Okinawa Marine Staff | .
published: July 27, 2013

Okinawa’s beautiful beaches and lush, forested hills offer picturesque views and recreational opportunities to sightseers and adventurists alike. However, there are precautions everyone should take to avoid a potentially unpleasant, early end to the day’s adventure.

Some of Okinawa’s plant life is poisonous and includes the sago palm, oleander, wax tree, sea mango and elephant's ear, according to Lt. Cmdr. Marion A. Gregg, the director of public health with U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.

The sago palm is a tree, growing up to 16-feet high with leaves about 3-feet long and reddish seeds about an inch-and-a-half long.

The entire palm is poisonous if eaten by animals or people, according to Mitsugu Sugiyama, a natural resources specialist with the Environmental Affairs Branch, G-F, facilities, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. It can cause liver damage, nausea, fever and an altered mental state if left untreated. The victim should drink plenty of water and go to the emergency room as soon as possible.

Another hazardous plant is the oleander; an evergreen-like shrubbery that grows up to 6-feet high with leaves that grow in a spiral pattern, according to Gregg. Although its pink and red-colored flowers can be fragrant, whether dried or fresh, the entire plant is dangerous to consume and touch.

“Everything about the plant, including the sap and leaves, is highly toxic,” said Gregg. “Contact with the plant will cause skin irritation, and ingestion will cause gastrointestinal, cardiac and nervous system problems.”

In case of contact, wash the affected area immediately, if ingested, drink plenty of water and seek medical help, according to Gregg.

Much like the oleander, the wax tree is poisonous, although it is not as toxic overall, according to Sugiyama.

“Wax trees are related to poison oak and poison ivy found in the U.S., and have similar effects on whoever touches it," said Sugiyama. "The leaves have red and orange coloration, the flowers are yellowish-green, and the fruit is small, round and yellow.”

Contact with any of the plant's oils may cause a severe allergic reaction, according to Sugiyama. Treat the area at home by washing the oils off the infected area, and if problems persist, contact a medical professional.

An evergreen shrub known as a sea mango is another dangerous plant to keep on the lookout for, according to Gregg. It has red and white flowers and shiny, dark-green leaves. It also produces fruit, which is egg-shaped and green, becoming blackish in color over time.

“Like the oleander, the sea mango, including the sap, is toxic to humans and animals alike,” said Gregg. “Contact with the sap can cause skin irritation and eye inflammation.”

In case of skin contact, wash away the sap with soap and water as soon as possible; if ingested, drink water and as a precaution go to the nearest emergency department, according to Gregg.

Ingested or touched, the elephant's ear is also toxic throughout, according to Sugiyama. The stalky perennial herb consists of leaves shaped like a heart and contains a crystalline chemical that will cause irritation.

Anyone who makes skin contact with an elephant’s ear is encouraged to wash the affected area immediately with soap and water, according to Sugiyama.

Even though there are poisonous plants located on Okinawa, there is no need to fear the outdoors, according to Gregg.

“There are more than a few poisonous plants on Okinawa, but if you keep a few things in mind, none of them will cause a problem,” said Gregg. “We encourage people not to ingest portions of any plant unless they are sure it is edible. If someone happens to touch an unknown plant, wash the affected area as soon as possible.”

Despite the presence of dangerous plant life on Okinawa, the island has much to offer, according to Gregg.

“Although there are dangers on this sub-tropical island, Okinawa is a very beautiful place,” said Gregg. “Get out and take advantage of your time on island (but remain vigilant of your surroundings).”

For questions regarding plant life on Okinawa, contact MCIPAC Ground Environmental Affairs Division at 645-3327. For medical questions, contact your primary care provider or USNH Okinawa’s Preventive Medicine Department at 643-7936.