February 20, 2020

Walls: Poison ivy arrives with warmer weather

While walking in the woods the other day, a couple of observations reminded me that it is the season that people will be venturing outdoors for warm-weather activity.

Besides the many fire ant mounds that I encountered (I wrote about the scourge of fire ants a few weeks back), one plant that can cause some real discomfort was readily evident on several tree trunks and posts that I walked past. Poison ivy was heartily growing all along my route.


Poison ivy has leaflets of three leaves per segment. Thus, the saying “Leaves of three, leave it be.” On many plants, the vines have hair-like tendrils that assist in attaching the vines to the tree trunks on which they are growing.

Approximately eight out of ten people will have some sort of skin reaction to poison ivy. When coming in contact with the oil contained in all parts of the plant (roots, vines, stems, branches and leaves), a skin rash of varying degrees of severity will break out between eight hours and three days after contact with the oil. The rash can last a few days or two to three weeks depending on your body’s reaction to the oil and where on the body you come in contact with the oil.

Touching a garden implement or clothing exposed to the oil or pet hair exposed to poison ivy are additional ways to break out in a reaction. There are also reports of people breathing in the smoke of someone burning poison ivy. The lungs and poison ivy smoke are not compatible. This can be a serious situation and medical attention is always recommended. In most cases, exposure to someone with a poison ivy rash is not contagious. It is the direct exposure to the oil in the plant that causes the rash.

Although many of us do have a reaction to exposure with the oil in poison ivy, many types of wildlife readily feed on the berries that will be on the plants later on in the year. In addition to some small mammals, more than three dozen species of birds have been recorded feeding on poison ivy fruit.

On one tree, accompanying the many vines of poison ivy was a similar plant often misidentified as poison ivy. Virginia creeper was mixed in with the ivy. “Leaves of five, let it thrive” is the saying that applies to Virginia creeper. There are reports of some poison ivy plants having leaflets of five, but I have not yet found this. It is advisable to learn the difference in the two types of plants. The best bet, however, is to avoid any climbing vine if you are not sure. Better to be safe than sorry.

Don’t be afraid to venture out this spring or summer. Our great outdoors hold wonderful experiences for all of us. Just take a bit of time to educate yourself about the plants and animals that are our wild neighbors. In most cases, they were here long before we arrived in the neighborhood.

Enjoy your nature trails.

For questions or comments, email jwalls443@gmail.com.

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Walls: Poison ivy arrives with warmer weather

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