“Does a bear poop in the woods?” Sure, but what about you and I? Those charming Charmin commercials are so damn deceptive. Toilet paper doesn’t grow on trees, so we’re left with the next best option — leaves. Folks, for the safety of your hiney’s health and mine, I give you Leaf it Alone: A User’s Guide to Nature’s TP.
The saying goes, “Leaves of three, let it be.” In other words rash-inducing foliage grow in compounds of three. The nastiest buggers to look out for in South Carolina are the following plants:
Poison Ivy: The problem is not the plant itself, but what’s inside of the plant. When poison ivy is damaged by animals or humans, it oozes an oil which causes an allergic reaction to occur. This clever little perennial has three-pointed leaflets with the middle leaflet having a much longer stalk.
Atlantic Poison Oak: The nasty bit of foliage is generally shrub-like although it can also be a vine. It’s shiny, and the middle leaf has a distinct stalk. Incidentally, local mugwort, a tall herbaceous perennial, can help prevent poison oak.
Poison Sumac: This one takes the form of a small growing tree or woody shrub, and all parts of this delightful plant can cause irritation to human flesh. The veins from which the leaves grow are always red — nature’s 911 color. It loves to grow in swampy boggish locales, i.e. everywhere in the Lowcountry. It is also common in wooded areas.
Those are the bad boys of the backwoods, but for something that will feel like silk on your bottom try one of these:
Witch Hazel: This large shrub is native to South Carolina, and blooms in the late fall. The leaves are generally a hardy three to five inches long, and a friend of mine from the Adirondack Mountains claims they are the ultimate tool for camping hygiene. You’ll recognize them by the leaves — five to seven straight veins on each side with a slightly tooth-edged hairy underside.
Wild Gardenia: Although many South of Broad mansions have it in their yards, the spotting of this plant doesn’t give you a license to drop trou. But if you do find some in the forest, this is a good option. The leaves are carried in whorls of three or four, crowded near the ends of the branches. They are a glossy light green, hairless, softly to thinly leathery, and conspicuously veined.
Bigleaf Magnolia: Much like Bigfoot, bigleaf magnolia is hard to come by, but the name says it all. It’s a medium-sized deciduous tree, and the giant leaves can grow up to 30 inches long. Forget using it for TP; you can just as easily fashion a diaper and go native.
If you do plan to just lug the old toilet paper into the woods, please be sure to bury it in a hole. You can speed up the decomposition process by burning the paper, but beware of flying ashes. We would hate for you to burn your face with a flying piece of fiery poo paper.
Mae Lee A. Hafer, natural resources staff officer for the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests, has some other suggestions that will help you in a pinch once you’ve pinched one off: smooth rocks, grasses, ferns, and mosses. She also recommends sycamore and yellow poplar leaves, but make sure they’re green; dry leaves crumble. And while she’s heard of people using pine cones, she doesn’t give it the thumbs up.
NOTE: If you’re not 100 percent sure of what you’re about to wipe with, don’t do it.