Poison Ivy Toxicodendron radicans
What is Poison Ivy?
Poison Ivy is a toxic plant in the same biological family as the cashew, pistachio, and mango. Poison Ivy causes skin irritation and itchy blisters in up to 85% of the population. A person’s allergies and sensitivity to the oils can develop and change over time. *1 and *3
Due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere, poison ivy is growing larger and with more potent oils. It is the urushiol oil (mixture pentadecylcatechols) that causes the itchy and painful reaction that typically presents within 48 hours of exposure. A reaction can occur immediately or even a week later. Urishol is most concentrated in the plant roots.
Found as a ground plant, climbing vine, a shrub, or even looking like a young tree, it’s good to be able to identify and stay away from Poison Ivy.
In the spring, young leaves are reddish, have notches on the leaf edge (not saw-toothed) and have a red stem. In summer, the leaves are rounder with an irregular, non-symmetric almond shape. Greenish-white to yellowish flowers bloom from May to early July. In autumn, the leaves can be red again and many plants show clusters of small white berries. In winter, the leaves die back, but the climbing roots and offshoot stems can still be seen. It is hardest to identify Poison Ivy in the winter.
Leaf shapes vary regardless of season, from elliptic to egg-shaped, edges can also vary between smoothed, toothed and/or lobed. Leaves have a rounded back and irregular, non-symmetrical shape. Leaves of three grow to the left and then to the right off of the vine, the leaf clusters are never symmetrical. *2 and *3
What do you do if you come in contact with Poison Ivy?
As soon as possible after contact with Poison Ivy, wash with warm soapy water. Applying rubbing alcohol provides the best chance of not developing a reaction. There are specialty soaps, such as Tecnu, for the treatment of poison ivy. Other Pre- and post-contact products are available and contain either oil-resistant gels (to prevent) or oil-removing ingredients (for after exposure). Use a cloth or paper-towel to wash and wipe with a dry towel to help remove the oils. The oils can stay on pet fur, shoes and clothes for years unless washed off. A native ethnobotany remedy is jewelweed. Baking soda, oatmeal baths, or salt scrubs may be recommended by your doctor in addition to an array of topical ointments for mild cases. Contact your doctor if you have concerns or have a large affected area, or symptoms near or in eyes or airways. Doctors may prescribe antihistamines and/or steroids in severe cases. *4, *5, and *6
Removing Poison Ivy
Herbicides can be used to kill poison ivy but the oils that cause the rash can still be present after the plant is dead. Oils are also still present during the dormant season on the vines and woody stalks although leaves are not present. Many gardeners believe that digging up the roots (while wearing protective gear) is the only true way to remove the Poison Ivy. Professional poison ivy removal services are recommended.
Never burn Poison Ivy! Burning poison ivy allows the oils to get inside your lungs.
Many animals, such as dear, bear, birds and goats eat poison Ivy leaves and/or berries. *3, *7, *8 and *9
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