Beautiful blooming flowers of Albion Basin, Utah; Photograph by Taylor Dziedzina, My Shot

Oh, I only wish I were talking about myself. But alas, I’m referring to something just a tad prettier and more fragrant. Flowers.

A year ago, I was bundled up in a down jacket and there was a foot of snow on the ground in town (and much more in the mountains). This weekend I’m running in a tank top through fields blooming with phlox and shooting stars and climbing in crags that are ready to burst with poison ivy. And I find my dog dodging a new crop of prickly pear cactus as she follows me.

I don’t know about where you live, but it’s an unseasonably early spring in the Rockies, and time for me to pry from my memory banks what I know about the glorious display around me. I wish it were there just for my aesthetic pleasure. But Tod Schimelpfenig, NOLS’ director of wilderness medicine curriculum reminds me that this is indeed not true. “Hidden in this colorful display are plants that protect themselves with thorns, irritating hairs and saps, or chemicals that render them unpalatable and toxic,” warns Tod.

To avoid an accidental poisoning, use a plant guidebook, learn to use a plant key, and don’t eat a plant you can’t identify. If your child experiences the world through by taste testing it (like mine), keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t sample everything on your walk. If you brush against poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you have a short window to take a soap and water bath to remove the urushoil. If you react you can try the various recommended creams and lotions. “But expect misery, not magic,” says Tod. If you do eat something toxic, take comfort in knowing ingestions are usually small and not harmful. If your child eats something poisonous, you can immediately induce vomiting unless he exhibits signs of illness or altered mental status. If you can’t contact Poison Control (1-800-222-1222), get your child to definitive care immediately.

Ok, I probably ruined your entire spring vision of skipping through fields of flowers and singing like Maria in The Sound of Music. What was once a Monet landscape now looks more like The Scream, right?

But better be safe than sorry. Knowing more about the flora around you will help you better enjoy the splash of color in the hills and meadows that we call spring in the Rockies.