Happy Poison Ivy Day!

With thanks to TreeStewards of Alexandria and Arlington (especially Steve Young, Rod Simmons, Fitz Flohr Reynolds, Jeff Hurley, Kathi  Mestayer) for this guest blog post.

Today is National Poison Ivy Day! This second annual event is the best opportunity to celebrate poison ivy Toxicodendron radicans). Poison ivy (PI) is the most misunderstood and under-appreciated native plant of the mid-Atlantic. Some think it is close to threatened status because it is so widely despised and removed.

Poison Ivy - Photo:  Fritz Flohr Reynolds

Close up of Poison Ivy. Photo: Fritz Flohr Reynolds

Why does PI merit our respect?  Master Naturalists will know many reasons.  It is a native plant.  It has attractive foliage, and in spring, the new foliage has a marvelous, cilantro-like scent.  It feeds many animals, ranging from the White-tailed Deer that eat the leaves, to the many songbirds that eat the winter berries.  Its reddish-brown hairy vines ornament many large trees.  It feeds many herbivorous insects that in turn feed birds and mammals like Southern Flying Squirrels.  In the fall, the leaves turn a lovely scarlet.  As the poet sang, “Leaves of three, I praise thee.”

Not all humans are allergic to the toxic compound, urushiol, and many sources indicate that no other animals are affected.  Delicious mangoes are a close relative.

PI so impressed early colonists that they shipped it back to their gardens in Mother England, where in some places it continues to thrive. No wonder the English are grateful to their former colonies, who also gave them the beloved Gray Squirrel.

The vine in the picture below is following the natural succession of poison ivy vines: they grow vertically up tree trunks – mainly in bottomlands, which is where they naturally reach their best development – grow to large size and old age while producing abundant fruit, and eventually the old vines decay and fall off the trees leaving the multitude of young vines at the base ready to take their place. Native vines like poison ivy, grapes, Trumpet-creeper, etc., do not hurt trees, unlike non-native invasive vines like English ivy, Porcelain-berry, Japanese Honeysuckle, Kudzu, Oriental Bittersweet, and others.

Poison Ivy Vine - R.H. Simmons

Arlington-Alexandria TreeSteward Bonnie Petry (left) and Sue Dingwell of the Virginia Native Plant Society (center) pointing out an old Poison Ivy vine growing in the narrow floodplain of the Holmes Run Gorge. Photo by R.H. Simmons.

So PI deserves our appreciation and our love. On its special day, 1 April, try to get out there and dig it (but not literally). In the (un)likely event that you suffer an allergic reaction, please remember the immortal song “Love Hurts.” And don’t try to find me. I’ve moved again and left no forwarding info. I had to go. I felt nature calling…

Ivy Man
[aka “Steve Young”, “Frazmo”]

So is there really a National Poison Ivy Day?

Happy April Fools Everyone!

We admit it, we are just teasing about it being “National Poison Ivy Day!” But humor aside, poison ivy is one of our most important native plants for wildlife and should be valued as such. One of the many praiseworthy virtues of this vital native species is it’s showy sweetly fragrant spring flowers, which are beloved by pollinators including bumble bees. And, as TreeSteward Bonnie Petry notes, it’s important for folks to not think of all vines as bad and harmful to trees (only the non-native ones). Just be careful not to come in contact with the vines, as the oil can even get through loose, porous weaves like T-Shirts, etc.

If you do come in contact with the plant or think that you might have touched the vine, run hands and affected area under COOL water for a bit and then gently but thoroughly “wash” or rub the area with high-concentration isopropyl rubbing alcohol (91% or greater) – isopropyl effectively removes the urushiol; most soaps do not – and then rinse again with cool water. Pay especial attention to between fingers and wrists. And remember not to rub one’s face or eyes when working around poison vy in the field!

Thanks again to TreeStewards for sharing this humorous AND informative article with MGNV.

About mgnv

Master Gardners of Northern Virginia
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