• Sandi Manna

Identifying Poison Ivy

Poison ivy and I don't get along well. I am very allergic, and like many people, I get a nasty, itchy rash that eventually ends up blistering and cause me to take a trip to the doctor.

If you've ever gone hiking in the woods or worked in your own yard, only to end up with a nasty rash a few days later, chances are you've encountered poison oak or ivy.

The rash is painful to say the least and it usually starts after your skin has encountered any of the parts of the plants. Poison ivy is so nasty, it's oils are not only active even in winter, but for several years after it is dead! The leaves, the vine and even the roots contain a natural oil that is called urushiol.

It's bad enough to get it in direct contact with your skin, but according to scientists, the rash can linger on clothes, shoes and even garden tools for up to a year. Your dog or cat can also bring poison ivy knocking on your door. They won't get any irritation from it, but they can carry the oil on their coat and when you pet them, those oils can be transferred to your skin-so even if you haven't spent any time you anywhere you could get poison ivy, your furry family member may have brushed up against it.

Because poison ivy is tough to get rid of and can cause oozing, sore blisters for an excess of 3 weeks, we figure the best offense is defense. If you know what to look for, you can help avoid getting it. There's an old saying, "leaves of three, let it be" is a good place to start, but it's better to know what you're looking for as there are some species of these plants that have more than three leaves.


Poison ivy grows as a ground cover, a low shrub, or even as a vine that scrambles up a tree. The leaves start out green with a slight red tinge, and then mature to only green as they get larger. Poison ivy does have leaves that grow in a cluster of three per stem. The leaves have pointed tips and have a slight sheen to them when young. As the leaves mature they lose some of their glossiness. Mature vines will produce yellow-green flowers which are followed by white berries. When fall comes around, poison ivy puts on a fiery display of reds, oranges and yellows. In fact, that's how it came to America. Poison ivy is not indigenous to America. It was brought over by Europeans because of it's beautiful fall color. Clearly they were not allergic.

Poison ivy can be difficult to get rid of as even common chemicals such as Roundup often only harm it, but not kill it. Be sure to wear protective clothing and NEVER EVER burn poison ivy - even outside! The smoke can carry urushiol into your lungs and this can cause very serious health problems. When it comes to poison ivy, be careful,- it really is a jungle out there!

For more information on identifying Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac, visit http://www.poison-ivy.org/identify-poison-ivy-poison-oak.

Photo courtesy of poison-ivy.org

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