Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Poison Ivy?

Everything grows where we live; abundantly green and lush, our woods are some of the most diverse in the world.  Of course, along with the spring ephemerals and rarities, we have some of the most aggressively growing vines of poison ivy I remember seeing.  Dan has discovered that he is quite allergic, seemingly destined to catch it with the first woodsy golf game of the season, so we have become adept at identifying it.  

I should actually give the credit to Eliza, who is a master of identification and does not have to remind herself, as I do, what she is looking for every spring.  I'll holler, "this one? Is this poison ivy??" and she'll dutifully come and refresh my memory.  It doesn't help that our woods are also full of box elder, which looks surprisingly similar to poison ivy, which was alarming when we first arrived here.  I thought poison ivy grew as big as trees!  Actually, the vines can grow so large that at first they can appear to be a tree.

Ack! Is it a tree?? No! It's a Poison Ivy vine!
Poison Ivy vine on a Walnut tree at Blennerhassett Island
This is what it looks like here this week...Shiny, small, a little sneaky.  The girls reminded me on a hike a few weeks ago that I'd better not squat to pee in the woods this year, 'cause last year let's just say that I saw nothing and found out the hard way that poison ivy had started to grow...

I need a tutorial every spring on what to look out for, so Eliza drew this for me a few years ago, and I find it very handy!

Opposite stem = Box Elder, Alternate stem = Poison Ivy
Hairy vine, shiny leaves, red dot where the three leaves join
Here is another illustration of what alternate stemming looks like. Wasn't it nice of the plant to pose so beautifully against the wall?

Should you find yourself rubbing up against some poison ivy, have a look around for some jewelweed, which is just starting to grow here.  When I'm on the ball I'll puree some jewelweed in the fall and stick it in an ice-cube tray for those first encounters with poison ivy in the spring.  The stem is juicy and if you break it open and rub it on the contact area, it will help to counteract the chemical urushiol in the poison ivy and can prevent or minimize a reaction.  This works best if you treat it within minutes of contact with poison ivy.  Dan reacts so quickly that last year he actually took a poison ivy pill - meaning, a pill that contained poison ivy, as a homeopathic preventative.  You have to take it before you have contact with the plant or it can exacerbate your reaction.  I have to say, it was the first year in many that he did not have a terrible rash at some point in the summer...


merry said...

Too bad it's such a delicate, pretty plant!! Do the red dots stay on the leaves as they mature, or are they only visible in the early stages of growth?

slim pickins said...

the red "dot" is not as pronounced as the drawing would lead you to is visible on some, but not all (which seems to be true of most identifying characteristics of the plant!)
you've heard "leaves of three, let them be", but i learned a new one this week: hairy vine, no friend of mine! we have lots of grape vines and virginia creeper, but it's the PI vine that looks shaggy and hairy.