Just like in classic murder mysteries… a pretty face pressed behind glass and poising as art is really a deceptive killer.

Bracken fern (royalty free from Unsplash)

Perhaps being a deceptive killer is really just a clever survival strategy. Fossil records over 55 million years old show Bracken ferns is one of the oldest plants around.  

Bracken ferns grows throughout all temperate and tropical regions. In Oregon we see the subspecies P. aquilinum pubescens or Western Bracken which grows from Alaska to Mexico and east to Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas.

The plant prefers well-drained soils and will often grow on hillsides. It will also grow in burned-over areas near woodlands or other shady places and in open pastures and ranges with sandy, gravelly soils.


It colonizes areas two different ways. Triangular fronds may reach 16 feet or taller in a season. Fronds provide some shade and protection but discourage native species through large volumes of plant litter and chemical emissions.

Tiny, lightweight spores are on the underside of the frond. Spores easily spread in the wind or fall from fronds to the ground.  

Spores sprout into plants and lead to the development of deep-set, black roots called rhizomes. Bracken rhizomes creep underground up to 1,300 feet sending up fronds as they grow. The lowly Bracken is surprisingly one of the largest plants in the world.

Dried Bracken fern (royalty free Unsplash)

Silent Killer

Every part of the Bracken contains poisonous, carcinogenic compounds—even the spores are toxic. The plant emits poison into the surrounding soil through spores and leaf litter. These toxic chemicals remain in the soil even after the fern is removed.

Bracken fern is toxic to dogs, cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs. This fern is linked to cancer in humans. Even milk from cows grazing Bracken fern may be hazardous to humans.

Grazing animals may consume Bracken when normal foods are unavailable (such as during adverse weather). Ptaquiloside has a cumulative effect. Cattle consuming large amounts of Bracken in short periods of time can become poisoned. The disease has a delayed onset and poisoned animals rarely recover. The disease is often chronic in horses.

Some cultures consume young fronds called fiddleheads and rhizomes. Ptaquiloside will damage DNA and potentially lead to digestive tract cancers. There are ways to reduce the level of this chemical through cooking and other detoxifying techniques.

Hydrogen cyanide is released when mammals or insects eat this fern. This chemical causes repeated insect molting leading to death. Bracken is under investigation as a possible new insecticide.


Bracken invasions threaten biodiversity and habitat loss. Once established, this deciduous plant and its chemical foot print are very difficult to eradicate.

Removal and long-term management can encourage the re-establishment of native habitats. Bracken ferns are listed as an invasive species in several areas and considered to be among the world’s worst weeds.

–Encyclopedia Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/plant/bracken)
–USDA Agricultural Research Service (https://www.ars.usda.gov/pacific-west-area/logan-ut/poisonous-plant-research/docs/western-bracken-fern-pteridium-aquilinum/)
–Wikipedia, Bracken (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bracken)

USDA photo

Don’t let Poison Oak and other plants ruin a perfectly good outing.

It can only hurt you if you touch it, right? Not necessarily…. Here are a few tips for avoiding problems with Poison Oak.

Recognize the plant

Poison Oak is commonly found in Oregon and California as a shrub or vine that is up to 12-feet tall.

The old warning ‘leaves of three, let them be’ is still accurate. Note: there could be more than three leaves (like 5 or 7) and the leaves of every variety can look different.

Poison Oak is not a tree—it is a member of the cashew family with hairy under-leaves. The leaves are similar to the rounded lobes of Oregon white oak. Oregon white oaks does not have clumps of leaves in threes (or fives).

Understanding the danger

All parts of the oak are capable of exuding oil which can cause a rash on most individuals. 

The Center for Disease Control indicates that most people are sensitive to the poison oak sap and a tiny amount (equivalent to a grain of table salt) will cause 80-90 percent of adults to rash.

An oily plant sap chemical, urushiol triggers an allergic reaction. A reaction can occur within just a few hours.

Knowing how exposure occurs

Exposure can occur when brushing up against or damaging the plants like a pet may do. Urushiol does not affect pets.

Urushiol sap can easily transfer to other objects such as a tool, clothing, pet fur, shoes, and gloves.

Finally, smoke from a burning plant can be a problem. Sap in smoke can impact skin and nasal passages, throat, and lungs and potentially cause very serious allergic reactions. 

Recognizing the symptoms

The sap causes Contact dermatitis which is the swelling and irritation of the skin. The dermatitis may not show immediately in individuals who have not had previous contact.

Not everyone will be impacted by Poison Oak. Everyone, however, can spread the sap and contaminate others. 

Clean up carefully

Carefully wash fingernails to avoid further spread. Closely trim fingernails to minimize the damage caused by scratching (such as infection).

Wear gloves and use lukewarm water when cleaning surfaces. Use soap and cool water for pets and livestock. Even though pets and livestock do not get the rash, they can easily carry it.

Controlling the problem

The sap is quickly absorbed into the skin. Fast treatment (within 20-30 minutes of exposure) is critical. There are several products on the market that work well; some even come in wipes and handy pocket-sizes.

One particular product may not work for everyone or in every case. Be sure to include a variety of items in the First Aid kit including some of those products, antihistamines, oral corticosteroids, and more.

Symptoms may persist for three weeks before subsiding. Poison Oak is not contagious.

Call 911 as needed

Don’t let something like Poison oak ruin your outing. This article is not intended to share or provide medical advice or recommendations. It does share commonly experienced problems, tips and techniques. In other words: Been there. Had the itch. No fun.

–Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac at https://www.poison-ivy.org/pacific-poison-oak  check out the great plant identification poster
–U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Poisonous Plants.” July 7, 2016 at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/plants/
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/visitors/docs/Denman_WA_TrailGuide.pdf

Royalty Free. Unsplash.com

We are in a time of great stress and anxiety. This is not the first and will not be the last. Perhaps it is time to do like the Greeks and Romans.

Early Greek and Roman physicians recognized the healing powers of nature and water. Even nineteenth-century industrial workers were advised to “take the waters” by the seaside or at natural springs to recover by connecting with nature and water.

Connect with Nature

Mental health experts say getting outside and connecting with nature is more important now more than ever… especially if you have been clustering in an apartment or home where there is limited exposure to nature.

Even just looking out the window or nature scene displayed on your computer screen can help. Several studies related to physical activities showed that “Exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depress, and increased energy.”

Move activities near water and one’s self-esteem and mood will also be enhanced.

Measuring and Proving

Modern-day science can now measure and backup those early healing theories and practices as indeed healthy and as an answer to problems created by our fast-paced culture.

Today, there are many rehabilitation programs integrated with nature, and particularly with water- based activities. You might be familiar with “Heroes on the Water which has helped more than 3,000 veterans and warriors rehabilitate and reintegrate.

Hippocrates’s observation that “water contributes much towards health.”

Royalty free. Unsplash.com

Always On

Are you or your clients “always on”? A lifestyle filled with Chronic Stress can eventually result in memory problems, poor judgment, anxiety, depression, and difficulty relaxing.

It is now possible to measure the damage that chronic stress can do to cardiovascular, immune, digestive, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems. Water can help us tap into our inner selves or break the cycle of traumatic recall that occurs with PTSD. It can also help with addiction, anxiety, autism, arthritis, asthma, depression, and more.

In England, it was reported that coastal communities may be able to achieve better physical health than those communities more inland, by spending their leisure time near the water.  

A New Prescription

It appears that living on the coast actually provides a cost-effective opportunity to improve our health by “taking the waters” by walking on the beach, flying kites, fishing, and more. Imagine your doctor writing a new type of prescription, something like:

Swim or soak in ocean or water twice a week.
Fish every other day for at least two hours.  
Walk barefoot in moving water 30 minutes each day.
Call me when I can come and observe your progress.


Royalty free. Unsplash.com

The challenge might to be understand the science behind how water might make this a reality someday.  Enter the book by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols “Blue Mind. The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.”

Current research in cognitive neuroscience has brought some interesting techniques for improving our health and that of others. It might also provide ideas for expanding a guide business to help people learn and take advantage of several nature-based activities.  

Imagine making a living helping people learn how to [surf, wind sail, kayak, fish, …] to address their Post-Traumatic Stress Disease (PTSD) symptoms, stress, blood pressure, etc.  There are several organizations outside our area which do this very thing such as the Operation Surf, National Veterans Summer Sports clinics, AmpSurf, and Ocean Therapy (part of the Wounded Warrior Battalion).

Activities could, for instance, include walking barefoot in the surf, kayaking, diving, surfboarding, kite flying, wind boarding, sand yoga, fishing, paddle boarding, clamming, rafting, beach walks, and lots more. And after all of this… a great massage and a glass of wine would definitely be in order.

Doing It Anywhere… or Almost

Looking out the window us really just a start at the process. From the various studies it appears that the greater the exposure to nature (as for instance in going for a walk versus looking at a screen image) increases the positive benefits.

Even Plato asserted that ideas in your mind are like an aviary full of birds. If they are not calm, they are not accessible. The moments of calm will rejuvenate our thoughts and ideas and help us become more creative.  

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Albert Einstein

Getting Away from it All

To really rachet up the creative thinking, get “away from it all.” The National Institute of Health examined the brains of creative people and if there was a way to help an artist, for instance, access a more creative state.

For many, they found that areas with water (such as the ocean, lakes, rivers, streams… including showers, tubs, swimming pools, and even a floatation tank) can help reduce stress and anxiety, and increase creativity.

Being creative extends across our life styles and could include how to concoct ways to keep teens engage with something other than their phones or computers, and not just designing new bridges, products and services, or solving a problem.

Royalty free. Unsplash.com

One more step

What if rejuvenating your mind through nature/water experiences could improve problem-solving? A recent Attention Restoration Theory study described how immersing oneself in nature for four days could increase performance in tasks requiring creativity and problem-solving by a full 50 percent.

Imagine guiding a small group through a Creative Problem Solving workshop on the coast. The session would include lots of time near the ocean, getting your feet wet in the ocean, communing with nature, and rejuvenating open minds. And then the best part… getting paid for it.

What will your next adventure be?

“Water is both the lover and mother, murderer and life-giver, source and sink. It is the endless mutability, the surprise and unexpectedness of its ever-changing colors and moods that stir artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, and thinkers alike. Water unleashes the uninhibited child in all of us, unlocking our creativity and curiosity.”

–Nichols Dr., Wallace J.  Blue Mind. The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.  ISBN 978-0-316-25208-9 (hard copy). Review the research at https://www.wallacejnichols.org/467/bluemind-research.html
Connecting with nature, even just looking out the window, can reduce stress and anxiety (https://www.kgw.com/article/news/health/expert-connecting-with-nature-more-important-now-than-ever/283-fca94512-18f7-4a76-9fee-04ba4df9acdd)
Nature at home and at work: Naturally good? Links between window views, indoor plants, outdoor activities and employee well-being over one year(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169204616302717)
–Atchley, Ruth Ann, et al.  Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0051474)
The Healing Power of the Ocean (https://fractalenlightenment.com/31235/life/the-healing-power-of-the-ocean)
The Healing Power of the Ocean and Why Its so Good for You (https://mysticalraven.com/health/15279/the-healing-power-of-the-ocean-and-why-its-so-good-for-you)