It lies waiting, slowly climbing up backyard trees and fence lines shading out the essential sunlight necessary for the survival of all other forms of plant life. It trails over stone walls and masonry, and its roots meander by penetrating deep within the earth’s cavity or surface. It widens cracks as it re-emerges and surfaces elsewhere. All of this and more! Poison Ivy sneaks up on you unannounced when it chokes out all of your favorite landscape ornamentals. Poison Ivy is a ubiquitous, resourceful, and tenacious plant. Its vines can travel great distances measuring several hundred feet by trailing above the ground and growing within your shrubbery, and climbing up trees and fences by virtually attaching itself to anything within its reach (by virtue of its rootlet hairs that resemble rusty steel wool).
This slivering scourge is upon us, grows from Newfoundland to northern Florida, always is ready to greet us at first touch with a blistering persistent ‘itchy’ scratchy hello, being left behind as its calling card is a persistent itchy oozing rash that can last for up to 3 woebegone, torturous weeks of hell. Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac is the cockroach of the plant world, able to invade and survive within the most extreme and harshest of all known growing conditions. It thrives in direct sunlight, deep-forested shade, muddied mosquito infested swamps, and sandy salt laden windswept beaches. Wherever you look, it stares back at you, innocently lying in wait, always ready to inflict its poisonous sap upon first moments touch by those poor lesser knowing unsuspecting individual souls who dare to venture forth, either by touching or brushing too close to the plant end up making direct physical contact, and thereby jeopardizing their own physical personal margin of comfort and safety.
Toxicodendron Radicans and Rhus Toxicodendron are known as Poison Ivy and Poison Oak. In actuality, neither one really is ivy or oak, but rather both are related to the Cashew Tree Nut family, which includes mango, cashew nuts, and pistachio nuts. Poison Ivy vines can shoot along the ground, and if left undisturbed or untreated for several years, it may become rather woody. Often its vines exceed the thickness of an adult wrist and measure up to 12 inches or more in diameter (Click For Photo). These vines require the aid of a chain-saw in order to be removed and disposed. Erect vines found growing on trees and buildings can grow heights of 100 feet or more (Click For Photo) by randomly attaching themselves with their rootlet hairs, tracing along cracks and crevices, and scaffolding up, poles, fence lines, and building silhouettes. The vine creates an intricately dense maze consisting of lateral fibrous rootlet hairs (resembling rusty steel wool). The plant’s rusty hairs provide it with the innate ability to attach itself to any surface like glue. As a result, the plant virtually clings tightly to any surface found within easy growing reach. This mechanism not only assures the plant’s continued success, but it more importantly assures the plant’s very own survival by eliminating the chances of survival for many nearby competing plants that are all fighting for the same precious air, water, and sunlight. This plant wins, hands down, at successfully choking out all other plant competition. In certain instances, the Poison Ivy and Poison Oak plant establishes itself by growing within the home garden. It usually gives off a chameleon-like appearance and resembles other attractive and desirable plants that often do not share the same allergy traits. Most often, Poison Ivy is confused (by being misidentified by the untrained eye) with wild strawberry, raspberry, or blackberry, flowering tea rose, acer negundo (a swamp maple tree), fraxinus americana (mountain ash tree seedlings,) acer sacrum (a sugar maple tree that is derived from polly nose seedlings, or the ones you may have placed on your nose as a child to make you look like Pinocchio), astilbe (flowering garden perennial), parthenogenisis (virginian creeper), baltic ivy, boston ivy, bittersweet, and wild grape vine.
Often times mature Poison Ivy plants grow upright and resemble a small bushy shrub or tree.(Click For Photo) Its 2″ to 6″inch long green leaves are composed of three leaflets that radiate outwards from one central stem. Poison Ivy leaves can be further identified either by their waxy, smooth, and sometimes shiny surfaces or by their two lateral side leaves (which sometimes exhibit semi-lobed and smooth-edged margins). Poison Ivy leaves never have serrate edges, as their leaf margins tend to be continuous, smooth, and free from any teeth. The Poison Ivy vines most often exhibit a cinnamon brown to light mottled gray color and they never ever have thorns, but may exhibit rootlet hairs.
In the early to mid-autumn these attractive shiny plants turn brilliant shades of bright orange, deep red, bright pink and intense yellow. (Click For Photos) When mature, Poison Ivy plants (those plants that are three years or older) develop small yellow greenish somewhat fragrant flowers in the spring (May thru June) (Click For Photos) which develop on the topside of the stem just immediately beneath the leafy surface area. The plants exhibit tiny 1/4 inch waxy, white-green berries, which are most often surmounted by sectional lines that divide the seed in half evenly. While the Poison Ivy berries, in reality, are Poison Ivy seeds (Click For Photos) that make their first appearance in late June, they only first become visually obvious in mid to late summer, and are known to remain until early winter. At this time, they are eaten as food by birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. Poison Ivy seeds grow grouped in cluster like panicles, as they grow similarly to grapes, but they never as large. Poison Ivy seeds are about the same size as a tiny sesame seeds, so they are easily transported by wind, rain, and animals, which is the reasoning why this pesky plant is now as prolific as it now becomes ubiquitous.
The toxicology of these innocent looking plants is extreme. On the contrary to popular opinions, very few people are ever completely immune to Poison Ivy, or Poison Oak. The virulent sap found both on the leafs surface and within the plant is called ‘urushiol’ pronounced, “ur-oosh-oil”. It is a non-volatile phenolic resin that suffuses itself throughout the entire plant’s roots, stems, vines, leaves, flowers, and seeds. It is best known to cause extreme skin reactions in most people who are unfortunate enough to make direct human contact with Poison Ivy. They typically only notice days later they are now being accompanied with a severe burning, itching, and violent outbreak of a Poison Ivy allergy skin rash. This is most-often accompanied by huge, watery blisters. The lesser known amount of urushiol causes a violent reaction that varies from individual to individual, but usually amounts to no greater than what fits on the head of a straight pin, equates to 6 nanograms (a grain of sand). For example, a 1 ounce shot glass when full holds enough irritant to adversely affect a population of 50,000 people (the same amount of people found to fit inside a sold out baseball stadium). Due to the fact that urushiol is non-volatile, it doesn’t evaporate; therefore it can exist indefinitely for many years. For years, scientists have theorized that if urushiol was ever discovered inside of the tombs of the great Egyptian Pharaohs, dating back more than 5500 years, it would still remain active today when touched. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak sap is such a potent allergy irritant that even an insect on a leaf can transfer the urushiol over to an unsuspecting human. (Click For Photo). Unfortunately, urushiol is persistent and remains active for many several years, and infects many hands or fingers when placed on a door knob handle or garden tools that were previously touched by contaminated hands. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak is also easily transmitted from your pet’s fur. Most pets are immune to Poison Ivy/ Poison Oak, and you and your children always remain at greater risk. You easily can become infected thru transference simply by touching your pet’s fur coat.
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