Have you ever rolled around in the pink insalation used to insulate your attic in nothing but your bathing suit? Well, me neither, but I would imagine the itch and irritation that would follow such a ridiculously stupid act would only be about 20% of the death fire itch from hell Pica Pica in Puerto Rico can inflict upon you. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t prove what I am about to write, but I welcome input, contributions, corrections and personal experiences with Pica Pica in the comment section.
Let’s start out with a personal experience of mine to set the tone.
When we bought our property in Rincon, we had no idea the maintenance required to maintain our acreage. Actually, I didn’t consider yard maintenance at all. We were first time home buyers and I simply had my eyes on the prize: Home Ownership
My first summer down here was hot and full of mosquitos, but we had no power for fans at the house and we had tons of standing water all over the place. I focused 90% of my manual labor on the house and 10% on planting a few things close to the house. I didn’t worry about the rest of the property, or the vines strangling out all our junk trees. Well, ultimately that vine, that purportedly grows up to 12 inches a day, was Pica Pica.
Pica Pica vines and pods seemed harmless enough to me all summer. When I did walk through the vines or had to clean out an area with a machete, it never itched me so I wasn’t worried about it. I figured it was another hopped up wives tale like the chupacabra. That winter, after the rains stopped, things changed and I realized I was very wrong.
We started to get an idea what Pica Pica could do once the rains stopped and all the plants dried out. The green Pica Pica pods turned brown and then grey. All the little tiny green hairs were now dry, brittle and as fine as fiberglass. Since our house is situated in a valley, downwind from the trade winds, we get a wonderful breeze through the house everyday. Unfortunately, when there are hundreds of dried up Pica Pica pods upwind of your house, it’s not so wonderful.Pica Pica hits it’s prime in March every winter. Months and months without rain dry everything out allowing the super light Pica Pica fibers to swirl around with the wind and land EVERYWHERE; in your car, chairs, laundry hanging out to dry, closets, hampers, all over sheets, beds, couches, bathing suits, socks, underwear, shoes. Pica Pica is EVERYWHERE.
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that the itch inflicted by the dustings of Pica Pica is annoying but very tolerable. You sit down and get a super itchy spot on your leg for a few minutes. You hop into bed and you start itching. All inconveniences, but tolerable. What isn’t tolerable is a direct hit of Pica Pica.
That first winter, before I knew the wrath of Pica Pica, I marched up to a small tree covered in Pica Pica vines and dried up pods with a machete, boots and boardshorts. No shirt. I only hit the tree 4 or 5 times before the fibers showered my sweaty skin and started itching so bad my mind stopped working…and it intensified for about 15 minutes longer before it started becoming manageable. In that time frame, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you my middle name or been able to drive a car. The burning itch seemed super natural. Worse than any poison ivy, green head bite or sea lice sting I had ever experienced.
Ok, so now you know why I have a strong dislike for Pica Pica. Ok, let’s get into some facts about Pica Pica. I’ll also post some more pictures of Pica Pica, the leaf, the flower and the pod that we have found on the property.
The scientific name for Pica pica is Mucuna. The course hairs on the pods contain the proteolytic enzyme mucunain which cause the itch and sometimes blisters. It is a climbing vine and will strangle out other plants if you let it. Pica pica is found all over the caribbean and areas with a similar tropical wet/dry season weather pattern. Believe it or not, it is also considered to have many medicinal values and is used in herbalism. When the fine hairs attach to you, the more you itch the more you spread them around and push them further into your skin. Did I mention that Pica pica is also the active ingredient in many itching powders?
How to stop Pica pica itch? Bad news. Nothing helps relieve the itch of Picapica that I am aware of, but for me hopping in the shower and FRANTICALLY soaping my body over and over provided temporarily relief. Eventually, like super spicy hot sauce, the itch drops a notch and eventually goes away completely leaving no trace of it’s existence on your body.
Based on my experience over the past few years, I recommend eradicating all of the picapica from your property in the rainy season when it isn’t itchy. This way, when winter comes there will be no pods to dry out and make your windy afternoons uncomfortable.