BLACKSBURG, Va. –

Two researchers at Virginia Tech say they’ve found a natural way to control poison ivy and say the idea began in a windstorm.

Doctors John Jelesko and Matt Kasson are researchers inside the plant pathology department, who know a lot about one of man’s itchiest enemies, poison ivy.
Jelesko, standing next to a large growth of poison ivy on campus, said the plant grows where it wants.

“It can grow up this tree, in a vine that you see, but also over here it can kind of grow as a shrub and it’s a very dense shrub,” Jelesko said.

Poison ivy produces Urushiol, a chemical that makes 80 percent of all people itch, including Kasson, who pointed out a place on his leg.

“I have a patch here on my leg. See all those red spots?”

These men have found a naturally-growing fungus that kills healthy poison ivy plants.
Jelesko was asked if this new fungus could be a game changer.

“This could be on many accounts. For one thing, [this] natural fungus we found [grows] internally from the plants.”

What’s not known yet is why this fungus kills the plant, but it does. Just as important, said Kasson, the fungus is host specific — meaning it only kills poison ivy.

“We took a plug of the growing fungus culture and we placed it right up against the healthy poison ivy plant and within a few weeks, we should see disease develop naturally in these plants.”

Jelesko said his research began after the derecho of 2012. He was cleaning up his yard and using an electric chainsaw to cut down felled trees. The power cord he said, was dragging right through poison ivy. Jelesko’s wife told him not to do it. For 16 days, he suffered as the rash became worse.

“Yeah, probably the important rule here is always listen to your wife.”

The next step researchers say, is to find someone whom they can partner with, to get this product on the market.