Leaves of Three

Leaves of three…let it BE!  Do I ever listen, nooooo…have to “roll” in it at least once per year.  I swear I am being careful, wash with a Poison Ivy soap afterward, but inevitably I  will never fail to miss a spot.  This time it is just beneath my left eye…and is fairly obvious that I (without thinking about it) swept my finger across my face.  Aaarrrggg!  Well, now comes the part where you suffer through, refraining from scratching to avoid scarring (very common with rashes) and just swear to stay out of it the rest of the year.

Oddly enough, your first contact with Poison Ivy for the season… may be relatively mild, but if you continue to have repeated contact, your rashes can become fairly severe.  As I looked around my property, I could tell that this is going to be a very favorable season for this menace.  I cleared Poison Ivy out of my fenced area to prevent my toddler from running across it, but I am sure I will have to monitor regularly for additional plants.  There are special herbicides to combat this and other vines.  Round-Up will not work well because it does not travel well enough to affect the entire vine.  There are products labeled specifically for Poison Ivy and other tough brush.  Use that, you will be glad you did.

Do you think you would be able to spot it without a doubt?  It can be difficult, but the primary species (there are 9) that we have in our area are relatively easy to identify.  While I can spot from about a mile away now, I once relied on three (sometimes 4) factors which are generally reliable signs.  The first sign are the “thumbs”.  Not all species of this Poison Ivy possess this feature but, more often than not, this is the case in our area.  The two lower leaves will have thumbs on the lower edge of their leaves (see pic).  The second identifying factor is that the rachis which attaches the top leaf is elongated unlike most mimicking trifoliates.  The third factor that I like to rely on does not always appear, but very frequently this plant will appear “wilted” or droopy.  During the summer months you may find one more distinguishing characteristic which is small blisters or blemishes on the leaves. These sometimes cover great portions of the leaves.

Habit can also be helpful when identifying this creature.  As a vine, they will generally be growing near something tall to eventually climb on.  While they may start out in a shaded  under story setting, they will seek out a way to get closer to the sun.  Be particularly careful when taking down trees and inspect them closely for possible “hitchhikers”.  The foliage will not necessarily be growing from the stem which has attached itself to the tree’s trunk and you may have to look up to see it hiding among the rightful foliage.  Eventually the vine can choke out the existing tree and use the trunk as it’s support.

Keep in mind, when cutting down a tree with Poison Ivy attached, that ALL parts of the plant are poisonous and it may be best to contract with someone who is not alergic to take care of it for you.  Notice the large vine attacking this tree.  These red fiberous hairs are another sign of aged and vining Poison Ivy.

I can’t emphasize the following statement enough: DO NOT BURN POISON IVY!  While is sounds like a good way to dispose of it, the poisonous oils (urushiol) will actually be carried through the smoke of the fire straight into your lungs.  Contact with the skin is one thing, systemic contact with urushiol will surely warrant a hospital visit.  This has actually happened to me before and I truly never wish the same fate on another person.

Now that we can spot it with relative certainty, what other plants might try to trick us?  Two of the most common in this area are Boston Ivy (grown regularly in landscapes) and Virginia Creeper.  Both of these can resemble Poison Ivy, but upon close inspection, you will notice the obvious differences.  The young leaves of both plants are remarkably similar to the villain, and you may have to inspect the entire plant for a better determination.  When in doubt, just leave it alone or spray it!

Other points to consider which may surprise you (gathered from poisonivy.us):

  • 1/4 ounce of urushiol is all that would be needed to cause a rash on every person on earth.
  • Urushiol can remain active for up to 5 years (sometimes longer) on any surface, including dead plants.
  • Half of the population is alergic to Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac (or all three).
  • You may develop sensitivity later in life.
  • The only cures are those that annihilate urushiol.
  • The rash is NOT contagious.  The ONLY time you can spread the oil is if it has been left on your hands or garden utensils.
  • Stay away from forest fires, direct burning or lawnmowers and trimmers if they are cutting these plants.
  • Urushiol does NOT remain within your skin (inside the blisters or otherwise).  You can not spread the rash by breaking a blister.  You can however increase your risk for scarring.
  • Poison Sumac and Oak pack just as much of a wallop.  Stay safe and watch for them, too!

The Garden that is Finished is Dead


2 thoughts on “Leaves of Three

  1. Do the flowers on Poison Sumac Plants have any fragrance. I am having a hard time identifying the
    plant. I am in Northern Alabama and have had a pretty bad rash on my arms for about 2 weeks. I cleared out my planter beds in the front yard then. We have never had any poison ivy in the planters before but after the rash came I searched out front and found some Poison Ivy. Today there is now a new break out on my hands, fingers and even the palms of my fingers. I had cleared out the back yard planters this weekend. I saw no poison ivy out back but I have what I thought was a wild lilac plant in my backyard, very fragrant when blooming, that I now wonder if it is a poison sumac plant. That is why I am wondering if the poison sumac flowers are fragrant. Do you know if once the poison is in your system if blisters can pop up other places on your body with out a re-topical touching exposure of the plant to your skin? Anyway thank you for your help.

    Laura Lopez

    • I have been locked out of WordPress off and on all Summer…so sorry for the delay!

      The oils from Poison Ivy can contaminate your gardening utensils and remain for a very long time. I wonder if you didn’t transfer oils to your skin that way?

      Here is a great ID page for the three P’s: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep220

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