If you live in the northeastern US and spend any amount of time gardening, golfing, hiking, or working in the woods, there’s one poisonous plant you should learn to recognize before all others: poison ivy. Sure, there may be other poisonous plants around, but this is the one we’ve encountered the most. Latest reports indicate that climate change is making poison ivy more toxic.
Photo: Vigorous patch of poison ivy growing right next to a road in a public park.
HOW TO IDENTIFY POISON IVY
The old saying is to beware of any plant with 3 leaves that are shiny… but skip the shiny part and beware of any plant with 3 leaves! You may confuse some nonpoisonous 3-leafed plants with poison ivy, but there won’t be very many. Take a close look at the poison ivy photo above and notice how the 3 leaves are grouped around the end of the stem. Learn to “scout” woods areas where you are golfing or hiking for this plant, before walking through. The oil from the plant can stay on your shoes and clothing, and rub-off on your skin later!
Photo: “Pretty Poisonous”
This vine, with such pretty fall leaf color, is Poison Ivy growing down over a wall at eye level.
While it’s usually best to look down toward the ground for poison ivy, don’t forget to look up as well. Since poison ivy is actually a vigourous vine, it commonly climbs up tree trunks and may appear at eye level or higher. To be on the safe side, take note of any tree trunks with vines on them. Older poison ivy vines tend to have a “hairy” look to them, as seen in the photo below.
Brushing against poison ivy with your shoes or clothing will cause the toxic oil from the plant to rub off on you. The oil remains active for quite sometime and can still give you a serious rash hours later when you take-off your shoes or handle contaminated clothing. As a precaution after you’ve been outside, it’s best to wash exposed skin areas with soap and COLD water. You can also use a specialty cleansing product such as TECNU.
Never burn poison ivy on a brush fire since inhaling the smoke can cause serious lung problems. Another thing to remember is that just because poison ivy vines look dormant or dead, doesn’t mean the oil in the stems and roots can’t give you a bad case of skin rash. And finally, even though poison ivy has excellent fall leaf color, it’s definitely not a colorful foliage cutting to bring into your house for a fall foliage centerpiece!
NEVER burn poison ivy!
You can inhale the toxic oil from the smoke causing serious medical problems!
Vines and roots are toxic (even without leaves) during winter dormancy!