Leaves of three let it be is the old phrase, but how well do you know Poison Ivy?
No I don’t mean the character from the Batman comics, but the plant that make you itch. Poison Ivy goes by the scientific name Toxicodendron radicans and is common in Southern Ontario, spreading as far north as Kenora and Cochrane, but it can also be found all around North America, including the Canadian Maritime provinces, Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia, and all U.S. states east of the Rocky Mountains, as well as in the mountainous areas of Mexico. Outside North America it is also found in the temperate parts of Asia, in Japan, Taiwan, the Russian islands of Sakhalin and the Kuriles, and in parts of China. It is normally found in wooded areas, exposed rocky areas and in open fields and disturbed areas.
As to what it looks like:
or it can look a little more rounded:
It can be in a bush, low to the ground or as a climbing vine. It also changes colors and can look like this over the seasons:
The itch is caused by a chemical in the leaves, vines and roots called urushiol and you get it by touching it, or touching something else that has touched it, like the fur of your dog or cat. Some people are immune, others are not, and you can have immunity and then lose it later in life, so don’t assume you will always be immune. If you have been exposed, wash the exposed area with lots of cold water (not hot water as this will open your pores and allow more of the oil to enter the skin) and then see a doctor – same day if possible. The rash can be ugly, can last for anywhere from 1-3 weeks and scratching will only spread it if you have some of the oil under your finger nails.
It’s not very easy to get rid of poison ivy. Tearing it up by the roots is dangerous (as the oil is in the roots) and will come back unless you get every last root, burning it will cause it to enter your lungs (very dangerous), cutting it off at the ground or covering with a black plastic and letting it die may take years as it keeps coming back, and using herbicides may kill other innocent plants. In the end either getting a goat (who will eat the poison ivy with no impact – but will eat everything else too, or the wise use of a product like Roundup may be the only option.
There are a lot of good sites with more info:
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food has a lot of good information, and there is a great site by Jonathan Sachs that gives you a quiz on how to recognize poison ivy which is very useful as there are a lot of plants with 3 leaves including raspberries so it’s not always easy to tell which ones are dangerous.