TP from Hell: Nature’s Gnarliest Wiping Alternatives


Let’s dis­cuss poop­ing in the woods for a moment. I know this is taboo sub­ject mat­ter, but as any wilder­ness back­pack­er can attest, this sort of knowl­edge could poten­tial­ly save your life. And by life, I mean but­t­hole.

Moth­er Nature pro­vides a boun­ti­ful sup­ply of toi­let tis­sue sub­sti­tutes. Thim­ble­ber­ries are wide­ly regard­ed as a pli­able, sooth­ing choice. Accord­ing to a sur­vey con­duct­ed by ultra­light back­packin’ tips that took com­fort, ease of use, and absorbance into con­sid­er­a­tion, some of the best wip­ing imple­ments include:

  • Snow, hand-squeezed and rolled up like a Cohi­ba
  • Wooly lam­b’s ear, a hairy shrub dis­tant­ly relat­ed to the Chi­nese arti­choke
  • Riv­er rocks, the smoother the bet­ter (for obvi­ous rea­sons)
  • Old man’s bears, a lichen often found on dying or dead trees
  • Bark­less sticks, the smoother the bet­ter (for obvi­ous rea­sons)

On the oth­er end of the spec­trum lie the fol­low­ing spec­i­mens. Just one swipe with one of these nasty bas­tards will have you run­ning for the creekbed in the worst way pos­si­ble.

Cow Parsnip (Her­a­cleum lana­tum)
Like net­tles and dev­il’s club, cow parsnip tricks us with broad, seem­ing­ly soft leaves. How­ev­er, skin con­tact with these invit­ing spec­i­mens can cause a rash-like irri­ta­tion. Watch for the tiny white flower blos­soms grow­ing out of the leaves, as well as the thick stalks.

Devil's Club - photo by Brewbooks.

Dev­il’s Club (Oplopanax hor­ridum)
If you get a good look at dev­il’s club, there’s no way you’ll con­sid­er plac­ing it near your sen­si­tive areas. The stalks are nor­mal­ly lined with nee­dle-sharp spines can grow up to two inch­es long; if that weren’t bad enough, the spines are also poi­so­nous. But in low light, the wide, soft leaves of dev­il’s club will resem­ble those of a maple. And yes, the under­sides of the leaves are also equipped with spines.

Lead­wort (Plumba­go auric­u­la­ta)
Just wait­ing to ruin your trop­i­cal get­away is this white flower, also known as plumba­go. It might even sort of look like stan­dard two-ply, but what­ev­er you do, don’t touch any part of lead­wort. Again, we’re talk­ing about blis­ter­ing. Accord­ing to every­day health, cor­ti­cos­teroid cream will help sup­press the inflam­ma­tion and aloe vera will soothe burn.   

Poi­son Ivy (Rhus rad­i­cans)
There’s a com­mon say­ing about poi­son ivy: Leaves of three, let them be… espe­cial­ly when going num­ber two. But poi­son ivy can also appear as a woody growth with spines, which are also poi­so­nous to humans. A nasty rash is a giv­en, but in extreme cas­es, those who come into con­tact with poi­son ivy may react by going into ana­phy­lac­tic shock. Keep an eye on the kids when they play in the woods; poi­son is the scourge of mis­spent sum­mer days for chil­dren across the Unit­ed States.

Poi­son Sumac (Tox­i­co­den­dron vernix)
This shrub is most­ly found in damp forests through­out North Amer­i­ca. The sap is poi­son sumac’s most dan­ger­ous com­po­nent; skin con­tact will result in der­mati­tis, the same con­di­tion caused by poi­son ivy and poi­son oak. Watch for del­i­cate yel­low flow­ers grow­ing from the green, teardrop-shaped leaves.

Prince’s Pine (Chimaphi­la umbel­la­ta var. occi­den­tal­is)
If you hap­pen to vis­it West­ern Cana­da this sum­mer, beware of a growth con­sist­ing of waxy green leaves and sprout­ing white and pur­ple flow­ers. The leaves of Prince’s pine usu­al­ly caus­es a minor skin irri­ta­tion upon con­tact, but blis­ter­ing may occur. Blis­ter­ing, peo­ple.

Sting­ing Net­tles (Urtica dioica) and Wood Net­tles (Laportea canaden­sis)
Great for wine, bad for the skin. Net­tles are herba­ceous plants found on at least four con­ti­nents. If the hairy leaves con­tact your skin, a patch of whitish bumps accom­pa­nied by a burn­ing itch will appear short­ly there­after. Thank­ful­ly, you’ll prob­a­bly notice you’re hold­ing a sting­ing net­tle before it reach­es your back­side. Wood net­tles cause sim­i­lar side effects, but in terms of dis­tri­b­u­tion, these babies are reserved exclu­sive­ly for North Amer­i­cans.


West­ern Poi­son Oak (Tox­i­co­den­dron diver­silobum)
This leafy under­growth is found through­out North Amer­i­ca, and is known to thrive in a wide range of ecosys­tems. That’s bad news for us because skin con­tact with the leaves or sap can cause a near instan­ta­neous inflam­ma­tion of the skin known as der­mati­tis; the sig­na­ture swelling will resem­ble that of an aller­gic reac­tion, which is essen­tial­ly what West­ern poi­son oak is trig­ger­ing in your body. The spe­cif­ic agent is known as urush­i­ol; those with severe aller­gies to urush­i­ol stand to expe­ri­ence crip­pling symp­toms. Keep an eye out for the deep green leaves and pink stem.