Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is a toxic plant that many campers, cottagers and rural gardeners are familiar with. I myself have been a victim of its rash and blisters and have become quite familiar with those leaflets three and so I do let them be. Only when I began to research Poison Ivy did I realize how little I did know and how far back people have been dealing with the consequences of coming in contact with this plant.

 

History of Poison Ivy

Originally rumored to have come from Europe, Poison Ivy has been in Americas for centuries. In fact, it was even documented as being observed first hand in Bermuda and the Americas by Captain John Smith in his publication Generall Histories of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles written in 1624. “The poysoned weed is much in shape like our English Ivy, but being but touched, causeth rednesse, itching, and lastly blisters, the which howsoever after a while passe away of themselves without further harme, yet because for the time they are somewhat painfull, it hath got itselfe an ill name, although questionlesse of no ill nature.”

Even in the 1784 First Volume called Memoirs of the American Society of Arts and Science mentioned a plant that “produced inflammations and eruptions”. They then went on to nickname the plant as “poison Ivy”. Since then there have been countless articles, research and trials attempting to control the spread of this toxic plant.

Poison Ivy Plant Classification

Poison Ivy as we know it to be called is really just one of many poisonous plants in the family of Anacardiaceae. In fact the cashew tree whose name forms the basis of this family does have toxic resins in the casing that surrounds the nut itself.

The English word for this family is derived from two Portuguese words which describe how the cashew nut grows… “ana” which means upward and “cardium” which means heart. Originally native to Northern Brazil, the Cashew was taken by the Portuguese to Goa in India around the year 1560-65 and now they are grown in parts of Africa and throughout Southeast Asia.

 

 

Cashew  Apples

Cashew Apples

The cashew nut is really a seed, whose casing, called a cashew apple, contains skin irritating chemicals, one of which is related to the oil;  Urishiol found in poison ivy. In fact, roasting does destroy the compound, but just as with poison ivy, the smoke contains the chemical and inhalation causes severe lung irritations.

Interestingly enough the mango, which is in the same family, has an urushiol oil based allergen that can also cause dermatitis and even anaphylaxis in in some people. The urushiol is present in the mango leaves, stems, skin and sap. Eating unripe, pickled or cooked fruit, the skin of the mango is edible but susceptible people may still get dermatitis of the lips, or the tongue. Generally ripe mangos should be peeled before consumption to avoid the oils. Despite this, further research has provided data stating the during the mango primary ripening season, it is the most common source of plant dermatitis in Hawaii.

Originally Poison Ivy was known as Rhus radicans;  part of a the genus Rhus which contains over 250 species of flowering plants including all varieties of sumacs, poison ivy, and poison oak. Research data has suggested that the Genus be split in to 6, based on redefined plant characteristics. In this case there would be only approximately 35 plants left in the Rhus genus.

Created from further botanical clarification, botanists generally accept the reclassification of Poison Oak, Poison Sumac and Poison Ivy in to the genus Toxicodendron, which is Greek for two words, meaning toxic and tree. All three of these plants contain some version of chemical compounds called pentadecylcatechols or PDC’s. Found in the clear sap of these three plants as well as other members of the Anacardiaceae or Cashew family worldwide, the PDC’s are generally referred to as urushiol.

This term was taken from the Japanese name for a tree there called Toxicodendron  vernicifluum. Despite the toxic chemicals there, the Japanese have used an oxidized form of the tree sap, to produce its famous finish for their lacquer ware.

Poison Ivy Range

This particular toxic plant ranges from Canada to the north down through the United States, areas of Mexico and in to South America. Poison Ivy may be found in these countries up to approximately 1,500 M (4,900 ft) but is extremely common along the edges of wooded areas, in open fields and other undisturbed areas.

While it is recognized as a creeping plant, it also grows bush like. Regardless of the style of growth, poison ivy is considered officially a noxious weed here in Ontario Canada and in the U.S. states of Minnesota and Michigan. Although some varieties  are shade tolerant, all forms of this poison plant prefer sun and in fact Poison Ivy was recently located at my favourite beach!

 

 

Beach-side Poison Ivy warning sign

Beach-side Poison Ivy warning sign

Poison Ivy Forms

Basking in the sun, this shrub form is merely one of the three ways this plant can be found. In fact, the shrub can grow one main stem with side branches, up to over 1 metre (3 ft) tall. Certainly as it is called ivy, given a good support pole, plant or tree, poison Ivy can grow taller than you can imagine. A good example, (Or bad) is the large mass of vines attached to a pine trees at my cottage by hair like brown aerial roots to a height of over 25metres (80 Feet). The last form is as a groundcover of 10-25 cm (4-10inches), as often seen in campgrounds and growing between other native plants along roadsides.

Trillium and poison ivy roadside

Trillium and poison ivy roadside

 

Description

 

Roots

The vine and bush plants have a rhizome root base. This allows the roots and new plants to spread from the subterranean nodes. The aerial roots attach themselves to the plant / object for support and nutrition.

Poison Ivy root runner

Poison Ivy root runner

 

Stems

Poison Ivy stems are woody and grey. On small plants the colour may not be as noticeable, but is definitely seen on bush and trees climbing forms. In fact, the wood on the vines of poison ivy that are climbing up the pine trees at my cottage have a dark grey to reddish tint. Their hair- like roots, which are reddish in colour are also poisonous to humans.

450px-Poison_ivy_vine

 

Leaves

Despite knowing the old saying” leaflets three, let it be”, there are other plants with similar three leaf configuration. Generally there is one leaf and the end and two below that which are side by side. They are normally 10-20 cm (2-4inches) in length, with toothed or lobed edges, although occasionally the edges can be smooth.

Of course when they are small, but still containing urushiol, they begin with two leaves only, so weeding in the front of a rural garden especially can be dangerous if gloves are not worn. In the spring, the new leaves are a reddish green colour, changing to deep green and then yellow, orange and red in the fall before dropping off.

 

 

Flowers

Despite having poison ivy in various locations at my cottage, I had not seen the flowers myself until recently when visiting my favourite beach. In full sun the shrub form had developed 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1-3inch) clusters of the small green flowers. The tiny 5 petal blooms are quite often hidden under the leaves themselves.

 

Poison Ivy flower

Poison Ivy flower

 

Fruit/seeds

Small flowers produce small seeds and these tiny white berries are round, hard and about 0.4 cm (1/8inch) that have ridges in them that make them appear to have segments like a peeled orange. Forming in the fall, the berries contain the seeds of the plant which are spread by the over 50 species of birds that eat them with no ill effects.

 

Poison Ivy Berries/seeds

Poison Ivy Berries/seeds

 

 

Toxicity

It is estimated that 85% of the population is sensitive to the urushiol toxin found in all parts of the poison ivy plant. Skin reactions range from a slight dermatitis called Rhus dermatitis, to blisters. These blisters result from blood vessels somehow developing gaps in response to the chemical in the oil and then fluid leaks through in to the skin.  The blister themselves do not contain the urushiol.  In severe cases these blister cause tissue damage and may need plastic surgery to repair. In extreme situations, anaphylaxis may occur.

If you believe you have bruised the plant and released the oil, wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. Rubbing alcohol will also remove the oil and now specific lotions are available at the drugstore. According to recent testing, there is a compound in crushed Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) that relieve the effects of recent contact with poison ivy in about 85% of people tested. Dermatologists recommend oatmeal baths and baking soda to relieve the itching and there are prescription cortisol based lotions for more severe cases.

Remember that all clothing and even tools need to washed down well in the same way, because the oil remains potent indefinitely and it will re-poison you.  Further risk comes from transfer by other animals and even of burning the plant. Dogs for example have some resistance due to their thick fur and the natural oils there, but can transfer it to their owners’ hands. Smoke from burning any and all parts of this plant contain the oils and can cause serious allergic reactions inside lungs of susceptible people.

Control

Controlling Poison Ivy is a challenge regardless of the affected area, because of its toxic oils. As a result, the number one thing to remember is to wear protective clothing. Cloth or leather gardening gloves are recommended over rubber as according to several sources, the urushiol is soluble in rubber. Even in the garden at the cottage I wear gloves as …surprise…poison ivy alert under the perennials!

 

Poison Ivy in my garden

Poison Ivy in my garden

 

If the poison ivy is a few plants, growing as ground cover, then carefully pulling them out with all the roots works. Then the plant needs to be discarded safely. I have a large plastic pail with a lid, and the smaller pieces go in there to die completely. After a month, once there is no sign of life, I dig a hole about one foot deep and bury them.

When poison ivy is growing on a larger scale, the task of control definitely becomes difficult. One suggestion for large mass plants is covering them over with tarps and soil so no light reaches these and they will die. Of course they need to remain covered for several years before it is safe to assume they are dead.

Shrub forms of poison ivy are very difficult to deal with. If the shrub is not too large, herbicide spray can be used. The newest generation of these sprays interfere in the plants photosynthesis when the leaves are saturated. It is important to wear protective gloves , face shield  and disposable gloves when using these products.

Controlling Poison Ivy is possible, however, even using herbicides that do not leach in to the soil, getting rid of it for good is highly unlikely. In addition, beware of home remedies that are dangerous, such as pouring salt or bleach all over them because the soil is then contaminated and the chemicals can leach in to the water table.

Summary

While contact with poison ivy can have toxic consequences, by wearing gloves in the rural gardens and watching vegetation you are walking through carefully you can minimize your risk. If you live in the country and have dogs, the chances are much higher you may contact it from their coats. In that case, having a knowledge of treatment including rubbing alcohol and lotions would be a good precaution.

 

 

 

Wildflowers in spring

Wildflowers in spring are found blooming everywhere just as our home gardens are trying to adapt to change. Woodlands are full of new shoots struggling to find the sun, petals and buds forming and finally many blooms open and share their glorious colour. In fact, in the cooler days of May, as my seedlings are adapting in the sun porch  the meadows and woodlands of Mother Nature are full of growth and blooms galore!

 

Trillium and poison Ivy

 

As we gradually condition our seedlings to the changes in temperature and light etc, nature has a communication system we are not directly connected to. Certainly when cooler weather hits, the seedlings in nature are already adapted somehow, as if by unspoken communication. Seldom do we see dandelions wither if a colder snap hits at night.

 

happy Dandelion

 

In fact, after centuries of adaptation, even wildflowers that return each year from seed propagation seem to be adapted in ways commercially sold seeds seldom do. Certainly the pampered conditions we give them to promote optimal growth in some way baby’s them, but  with the exception of some heartier seeds and ones that need cold to begin growth, commercial seeds seem to be less hardy.

Whether you are in warmer climates where your new plants are blooming and adapting well, or in cooler areas still waiting for warmer weather, a walk in the wild certainly  shows that wildflowers in spring are an array of amazing plants!

 

Unfurling Fron

 

With the arrival of new plants comes the fungal world as well. One such specimen was growing in plain sight, as if its brain like appearance was waving at me to take notice. In fact, it lead me to one of my previous posts from Oct 15/12 entitled Plant Family Classification. I was then reminded that Fungi is one of 5 Kingdoms that all living things are classified in to. Further investigation led me to a book called Mushrooms of Eastern Canada where I determined the odd living thing was a Yellow Morel.

Yellow Morel

Yellow Morel

 

Springtime in the woods certainly contains lots of other yellow, especially Dandelions ! Despite a dry spring this year, the Dandelion blooms were almost 2 4 cm or 1.5 inches across and the plants were several shoe lengths tall.

 

Dandelion face

 

 

bobbing Dandeions

 

Everywhere I looked they bobbed in the wind and new buds were forming. In fact, they begin their life cycle so early in the spring that many Dandelions had gone to seed stage, just awaiting the wind to carry those seeds.

 

Dandelion ...Wishes

Dandelion …Wishes

 

The woods held many plants I have yet to learn about as shown below. There are single spikey yellow blooms, shrubs with multiple white blooms and more.

 

Mysterious Wildflower     Multiple budded shrub

 

Plants were also discovered along wetland areas and one I had the joy to discover was the Jack-in-the -Pulpit. Hiding in the shadier areas along streams and riverbanks, this stately bloom is wonderful despite the rather sedate colouring.

 

Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit

 

Perhaps one of the loveliest wildflowers in spring , found in forest across Canada,are those of the lovely Trillium. Of course many people recognize the white Trillium as Ontario’s official flower emblem, but the smaller Red Trillium flowers are still lovely to discover.

 

Trillium Ontario's Flower Emblem

Trillium Ontario’s Flower Emblem

 

 

Red Trillium

Red Trillium

 

One such discovery I made gave me several surprises. First, while I was busy photographing a patch below some tall trees, I  had not noticed the plants were happily growing in a large spread of Poison Ivy!

 

Trillium and Poison Ivy

 

Then I thought I had discovered a mutant pink Trillium only to find out later that white blooms turn pinkish -purple when they are close to dying. This would explain the mixture of colours seen in the patch. What a treat to discover!

Thankfully the Poison Ivy did not contact my skin so no oils were transferred and no rashes appeared. Of course springtime in the woods does include Poison Ivy and other toxic and dangerous plants. Further discoveries of the roots were found weaving through the undergrowth as well as high over head in Pine trees.

Poison Ivy unfurling in a Pine tree

Poison Ivy unfurling in a Pine tree

 

Despite the toxic nature of many plants, they do exist and sometimes even are a sight to behold…whether their colour, shade, tenacity or other characteristics fascinate us, wildflowers in the spring are never disappointing and always reminds us of the awe inspiring   universe around us!

 

ben and stuff 368

 

 

 

Poison Ivy Spreading on Pelee Island

Poison Ivy spreading on Pelee island came as quite a shock to me! Poison ivy is not new to rural gardeners  and has been the subject of many an information search. This noxious weed has even been  mentioned in a few of my past blogs and  found intermittently in my cottage garden,so it certainly should come as no surprise that I have witnessed first hand that it can indeed spread widely! Still, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that even on vacation I would find it… on an island!

Yes, I have currently visited Pelee Island and there the, rash inducing vine was  just waiting for me!  I was walking along enjoying the beautiful island scenery on a lovely sunny day, unaware of what lay below! Walking between the stones in the older section of the island’s cemetery, I saw one particular head stone had fallen over and a weed sticking out between the pieces. Thinking of respectfully clearing it away, I reached down only to catch myself in time to avoid touching the three leaves!

Point Ivy rest in Peace

 

After recovering from that surprise, I scanned other areas of the cemetery and noticed the Poison Ivy spreading to the point of taking over a family plot. Then of course there was more! Several trees had it climbing up their bark, it was growing in the sand and on the path at Fish Point Park…Canada’s most southerly point and it was on almost every walking trail! 

Poison Ivy spreading on Pelee Island

Now I was careful to walk, as the Buddhists would say, with mindfulness! My eyes were peeled to the ground around me as I walked in sandal-ed feet. Despite this green plaque, I did have a lovely time and would recommend visiting Pelee. On the horticulture front, there was an unusual site…that of some strange disease that left red bumps on the leaves of the poison Ivy. Could this be our salvation?

 

Poison Ivy with disease

 Poison Ivy Spreading on Pelee Island

I have decided that while there are many things that kill the toxic weeds in small patches, killing in large scale requires a great deal of work. What is not apparent with all sprays, blocking and cutting controls methods is the HUGE amount of patience and dedication required by the murderer ( alias the gardener)!

Surely if birds or contaminated soil brought the seeds to this island, how do we stand a chance against Poison Ivy spreading ? In fact, whether here in Ontario or our neighbours to the South, it seems the berries from poison ivy are an attractive food to a wide variety of birds .According  other sites I have read, over 50 species of birds are known to eat the small white round berries.

After further reading, I have come to realize that despite my personal run-ins with poison ivy, the rash, blisters and swelling, it is just another weed that can be controlled with lots of work. The biggest surprise was how interesting the information was on this particular plant is.

Many sites provide good information on how the birds transport the seeds. Stating that the non-digestible seeds are, passed out in to the soil and fertilized by the very birds that ate them, certainly explains the plants spread. I assume then, as Pelee Island and the surrounding area is on a major migratory route and home to vast varieties of birds, finding this Poison Ivy spreaad to an island shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Poison Ivy Friend

 

In fact the extent of this particular poisonous plant is from parts of Mexico in the south, in to the northern parts of Canada. Details provided in my searching say the plants can grow in most types of soil, from pH 6.0 to 7.9 (slightly acidic to slightly basic) and can tolerate moderate shade to full sun. Wow, it certainly is resilient!

One natural factor against the plant is high altitude as provided by the Rocky Mountains. The thinner air above 4000 feet seems to stifle these plants and to provide a physical barrier in both Canada and the U.S.A, with Poison Ivy on the east and poison Sumac in the west. Certainly nature does what it wants and like all perennial weeds, poison Ivy is determined to spread unless we work on controlling it.

Control and elimination are something that plaques many of us, especially if we have suffered with the rash, blisters and pain left by the urushiol from all parts of this plant .Yet, to the Japanese this oily compound is highly valued  as a finish  used  since the 16th century as the finish on their Lacquerware. The process they use is quite fascinating, but the source there is an urushi tree (Rhus vernicifera) which is becoming rare. At least with a tree, other trees would be safe from the clinging vine that eventually can strangle them and walking trails would be safer.

Despite any risk in my hiking on Pelee Island, the views and people there were lovely and I would recommend the ferry ride as well. From the most southern point of Canada, looking across the vast expanse of the sand point and the water beyond, the poison ivy spread  on Pelee Island was forgotten…and inspiration was supreme!

 

Pelee Island Fish Point Park

 

 

Other sources of information:

www.ontariotrees.com

 

www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/weedguide

 

Enhanced Species: Poison Ivy

 

www.stutler.cc/pens/wajima/urushi.html