Pencil Cactus or Euphorbia tirucali

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ISSN 1059-6518 Volume 28 Number 3

By Brandon Munsell NREMT-P , WEMT-P, SOLO Instructor

A Cactus! Oh how our legs and hands quiver at the mention of these spiny land urchins…but it may well be the spike-less Pencil Cacti that should send danger signals to those who venture into the southern climates.

In this article we are going to explore the Pencil Cactus or Euphorbia tirucali from a EMS perspective.

The Pencil Cactus, or Milkbush, is not a true cactus at all but rather belongs to the Euphorbia family. It originates from the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and India. This Pencil-cactusfamily also includes the festive poinsettia and the Cathedral Cactus.

Out in the bush it can grow as tall as 30-feet and is a leafless plant that has tendril like green branches that are about the width of a pencil. When no growth begins at the distal end, tiny leaves may briefly appear before falling.

This attractive plant has become a popular large houseplant that can reach ceiling height when given a couple years in a properly-sized container. As the size increases, large limbs fall off. This species has also gained popularity as a landscaping plant in the Southern U.S.

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Chechen, Chaca and a Mayan Legend

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Volume 28 Number 2

Chechen, Chaca and a Mayan Legend

By Jeff Toorish NREMT-P, WEMT, GeoMEDIC, I/C –A SOLO Instructor


The Chechen tree is native to various jungle areas on Mexico with a prized wood that has been compared to teak. It can also be found in other parts of Central America, the Caribbean and the West Indies. The wood itself has a range of colors with contrasting streaks and presents with a slightly oily sheen. It takes a bit of work to refine it but it is highly rot resistant and extremely durable. It is also called Black Poison Wood, among other things, and that is the problem.

As its nickname suggests, Chechen (Metopium Brownie or Metopium Toxiferum of the family Anacardiaceae) can cause skin irritation and even the potential for an anaphylactic reaction in some people. Chechen is so toxic that its dark, runny sap can actually cause second degree burns and painful blisters lasting for weeks or longer.

Often the rash from Chechen doesn’t manifest for days or even weeks later. For tourists this presents a real difficulty because the treatment for Chechen poisoning is the Chaca (Gumbo Limba) Tree, which is only found near the Chechen tree.

The Legend of Two Brothers

And that brings us to the Mayan legend of two brothers who were both great warriors but very different in other ways. Kinich, the younger brother was much loved for his kindness and mercy. In contrast, the older brother, Tizic, had a heart full of hate. Then they met a beautiful Mayan princess named Nicte-Ha. She was so kind she melted Tizic’s heart, making him see the goodness in the world.

The brothers both wanted to wed Nicte-ha so they agreed to fight an epic battle for her love; a battle the likes of which had never before been seen in heaven or earth. The gods were not pleased about all this and colored the sky with dark clouds. The moon hid for many nights and the earth itself turned away.

In the end, the brothers both died in the arms of each other and were transported to the underworld where they realized the humiliating folly of their actions. They begged the gods to let them return to earth to once again see their beloved Nicte-Ha.

The gods agreed, returning the brothers to the world of the living. Tizic, because of this nature became Chechen, the Black Poison Wood Tree with the dark sap that burns and hurts. Kinich became the Chaca Tree with the white sap that heals the pain. That is why both trees are always found near each other.

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Wild Parsnip

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ISSN-1059-6518 Volume 27 Number 4

The Invader: Wild Parsnip

By Paul MacMillan, AEMT

Illustrations by T.B.R. Walsh


Pastinaca sativa

Danger: Stay away from this invader: wild parsnip in our woods. Wild parsnip juice and ultraviolet light lead to burned skin.

Wild parsnip is also called Pastinaca sativa, its scientific name in Latin. The homeland for this eye-catching, tenacious invasive plant is Europe and Asia. It was introduced into this country as a root crop by European settlers in the 17th century, and it escaped colonial gardens, spreading nearly everywhere. The only states currently free from wild parsnip are Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Hawaii, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

You may ask what does it look like? It is a member of the carrot family. Wild parsnips are typically biennials, but, on occasion, they can become perennials. The plant will form a rosette of basal leaves for the first year, then flowering the second year. It flowers primarily from May through July.

In its first summer the wild parsnip will have a rosette of leaves close to the ground. The plant is anchored in the soil by a long, thick, edible taproot, much like a carrot. If the growing conditions are right in the second summer, meaning soil impregnated with limestone or lime and in a sunny area, the plant will send up a single flower stalk that will produce hundreds of tiny yellow flowers. They form flat-topped, umbrella-like clusters called umbels. The stalks on the plant can grow up to 4 feet tall or higher. Wild parsnip plants produce a large number of seeds, which contribute to their persistence and spread.

Simple contact with this plant will cause you no harm unless you have supersensitive skin. The danger comes if you damage the plant, and you get the toxic plant juice on your skin. The wild parsnip plant parts contain chemicals called furocoumarins which cause “phytophotodermatitis.” The combination of this plant juice on your skin and some ultraviolet light will produce a burn on your skin.

When your skin comes into contact with these furocoumarins from wild parsnip the chemicals are absorbed into your skin. These chemicals are then stimulated by ultraviolet light, which is present during sunny and cloudy days, causing them to bind with nuclear DNA and cell membranes. This process begins the breakdown of cells and skin tissues. This reaction will take time before the actual skin damage is visible.

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November/December 2010   ISSN-1059-6518  Volume 23 Number 6

By Frank Hubbell, DO

Illustrations by T.BB.R. Walsh


It may sound trite, but one of the riskier activities for hikers is crossing streams. Not major white water rivers with Class 3 or 4 rapids, but small, shallow, slow-moving streams and rivulets that are 1 – 2 feet deep and 6-10 feet wide with a stream bottom that is lined with smooth river stones and many larger rocks sticking up several inches above the water. The stones are just close enough together to make hopping from one wet, slippery rock to another impossible to resist.

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