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December 13, 2017

Meet the native: Poison Ivy

Few would guess that this native plant of disrepute is in the same family as tasty cashews and pistachios. Poison ivy is typically seen clambering up trees with adventitious roots that sprout from aerial parts of the stem. The key to identification is poison ivys trifoliate arrangement, in which leaflets are present in groups of three.

Some other climbing vines are mistaken for poison ivy in Florida, like Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia); however, this look-alike presents leaflets in groups of five instead. To avoid confusion, remember the rhyme, Leaves of three, let them be!

Although nearly everyone knows to steer clear of poison ivy, a substantial percentage of people do not develop a rash upon contact. People who are allergic to poison ivy recoil from its touch to hopefully prevent an itchy or blistering condition caused by its sap. While it seems no one would dare experiment with poison ivys juices, it served as an ink in the past since its initial yellow color darkens upon drying.

Many people may overlook the fact that poison ivy fulfills a role in local food webs. Plants just sprouting from the ground that we may tromp upon are grazed by deer. White flowers, though visually insignificant to us, bloom on older vines and attract honeybees for pollination. The resulting fruits are devoured by songbirds in need of extra energy during tough winters. This is also the season to easily identify poison ivy since some red-tinted leaves blink among drabber foliage like festive lights.

Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden

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Meet the native: Poison Ivy

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