Poison Ivy – Leaves of Three, Let Them Be – Leaves of Five, Let Them Thrive!!

Leaves of three, let them be… Leaves of five, let them thrive!

flowering poison ivy

Blooming Poison Ivy

parthenocissus quinquefolia

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Although us horticulturist know better.. they are really leaflets, as it is a compound leaf. I don’t want to mess with the original poetry, so whatever keeps you away from this itchy stuff, I’ll continue to chant!

Arisaema atrorubens

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema atrorubens)

Many of you may not have heard the last part of this saying, but it is to prevent the beautiful, native vine, Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) from being lumped in with poison ivy. They both also have beautiful red, fall coloring.

wpid-20140601_132914_richtonehdr.jpg

Box elder (Acer negundo)

I’ll discuss some of the look alikes and general areas it can be found. This guide will hopefully help you avoid this itchy plant!

Poor Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema atrorubens)… He likes to grow in all the same areas poison ivy grows. Later on after he blooms, he doesn’t resemble it as much.

Trillium does have three leaves and blooms about the same time as poison ivy, although most seasoned hikers can distinguish it. This one only fools the newbies!

trillium

Trillium sessile

The winning doppelganger comes in the form of a box elder (Acer negundo). This weed tree is very prolific and seedlings sprout up very easily. When they are seedlings, they have a striking resemblance to the poison ivy leaf, without the red stem tho, that’s the tell. As they grow, they develop another set of leaves (leaflets) which would bring the total to 5 leaflets, thus lighting the way to pull this weed. Ok, maybe we do need to work on that poem….

Where To Find It:

Poison ivy is found in our Midwestern forests & natural areas. It can be a small shrub, ground cover, but mostly seen here as a vine, in shadier areas, growing on the north side of trees. It likes wetter areas, but can tolerate drier soils.

Poison ivy’s leaf shapes vary from smooth and round, to narrow and sharp, with any number of lobes. Lobes can be sharp or rounded. Lobes may be symmetric or asymmetric on the same leaf, or within the same group of leaves. The leaves are often a reddish or brownish color when they are very young and in fall they turn yellow/red like other fall foliage. The stem in the location of the three leaves tends to be redder. Arisaema atrorubens

Why You Itch:

blooming poison ivy

Blooming Poison Ivy

Poison ivy’s main component that causes the skin irritation is Urushiol. It is an oily resin that is found on the stems and leaves of poison ivy and several other related species. It causes contact dermatitis — an immune-mediated skin inflammation. This oily ingredient can even cause irritation during the winter!

Ironically, animals are immune to the oils, deer feed on the leaves and birds use the vine as living spaces along with eating the berries in fall. They do not have any reactions to the oily resin, contrary to humans. However, the oils can be transferred from your dog to your hands if you pet them.

Eh Gads, I’m Up To My Elbows! Now What?

As soon as you notice your mistake… TAKE ACTION! Speed is of the essence. The less oils you can have soak into your skin, the better.

Many washes are available. These should be brought with you hiking. Zanfel has worked great for our crews. The wash works by surrounding urushiol and bonding with it, enabling it to be rinsed away with water.

jewel weed

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Another folk remedy is to smash the stems of Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) and apply to skin. Luckily, they tend to grow near each other!

Other methods of relief.

  • Cool colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Cold, wet compresses that can be applied for 15 to 30 minutes a few times each day
  • Anti-itch creams, such as Calamine Lotion, Caladryl Clear Topical Analgesic Skin Lotion, or Aveeno Anti-Itch Cream with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal, zinc oxide,
  • Oral antihistamines such as Atarax (hydroxyzine), Benadryl or prescription strength.
  • Oral steroids, such as Orapred or Prednisone.
  • Topical steroid creams.
  • A steroid shot, Kenalog (triamcinolone acetonide)

Without further adieu, here is my Poison Ivy Gallery:

flowering ivy

Blooming poison ivy

Growing up a tree trunk.

Growing up a tree trunk.

Close - up.

Close – up.

https://midwesternplants.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/wpid-20130829_0900231.jpg

Poison ivy berries

fall

Fall color

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©Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

82 thoughts on “Poison Ivy – Leaves of Three, Let Them Be – Leaves of Five, Let Them Thrive!!

  1. So many people get Virginia Creeper confused. My dad thought it was Poison Oak. I told him what it was and that around 10% of the people who are allergic to Poison Ivy are also allergic to Virginia Creeper. Different chemical compounds, but can still cause skin irritation. Poison Oak has similar leaves to Poison Ivy (well, in some cases) they just grow somewhat different. I like the saying ‘Leaves of three, let it be. Leaves of five ?”. I have plenty of Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper here and a lot in Mississippi as well. I haven’t had any skin irritation here yet for some reason. I had it all the time in Mississippi, it just was so unavoidable. Great post for sure!

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  2. Great article and WONDERFUL photos! I have never seen PI blooming like that. I knew it had to, in order to get its beautiful red berries, but just never caught it like you did. The birds just LOVE those red berries, and do a great job of spreading the PI all over the place.

    Say, maybe you can help me with something I forgot. There is a type of alder, I believe, that grows in the lowlands around southern Lake Michigan (and other places, I’m sure, but that’s where I’ve seen it) that has trifolate leaves that look EXACTLY like PI, only it’s a perfectly normal tree and has no relationship at all. When I was doing my Botany field trips with the wonderful Robin Foster (U of C) he gave us mnemonics to remember things by (that was redundant, wasn’t it??), like, “muscle tree” for Ironwood, and “Poison Ivy Tree” for this one. I haven’t been able to locate a photo of it so I wonder if maybe it isn’t an alder, but my memory keeps insisting it is.

    Do you know what I’m talking about?

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    • You got me all rev’ed up & I revamped this post =-)
      The poison ivy tree your memory is reminding you of is Box elder. Elder – Alder… Pretty close! I posted a photo of a sad-ass example of a seedling box elder. If you had asked me this next week, I would have not had a photo for ya. We’re getting into the 20’s for the next week. Gaa. Hate the cold. =-(

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      • Thank you! Thank you! Oh those botanists, they’ve gone and messed with names again. Used to be Acer Nigrum. Guess that wasn’t politically correct so they changed it. And what was wrong with Rhus Radicans that they had to go and change it to Toxicodendron spp? Just to mess up the homeopaths, I think. Sorry it’s going to get so blistering cooooold. Brrrrrr, just thinking about it!

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        • Botanists surely do enjoy the power to recatagorize plants a bit too often. I’m not a botanist, but respect the field… Many peeps don’t know there is a difference between a horticulturist and a botanist, the former thinks about the plants welfare and the lader thinks of how the plant can help humans. Anyway, botany was meant to be used in the field with observations of touch, sight, smell, etc. Not using an electron microscopes and DNA testing. 😦 Ah, all in the name of progress, I guess.

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          • I had been (mistakenly, apparently) under the impression that once the Linnaean taxonomy of a plant had been established, you couldn’t go fooling around with it. But it seems that they have taken the whole Rhus phylum and messed with it. Oh well. Here’s a great article I found while poking around looking for a reason for the change (didn’t find one but found this great article!) http://www.fs.fed.us/global/iitf/pdf/shrubs/Toxicodendron%20radicans.pdf

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            • This article from Utah State University was very informative of the ‘why and why not’s’ of name changes. Very informative!
              http://herbarium.usu.edu/teaching/4420/botnom.htm
              Here’s a excerpt I got a chuckle over:
              WHY DO SCIENTIFIC NAMES GET CHANGED?
              1. Discovery of an older name for the taxon that has been overlooked. In the last decade, it has become possible to conserve the name actually being used if one can show that the earlier name has never become established. This is a nomenclatural, not taxonomic reason, for changing a name.
              2. Discovery that the name being used for a particular taxon had been applied earlier to some other taxon. This is a nomenclatural, not taxonomic reason, for changing the name.
              3. A decision that a species belongs in a different genus, or that a taxon needs to be split, or that the rank of the taxon needs to be changed. These are all taxonomic decisions.

              Most name changes reflect taxonomic decisions, but people that do not agree with the decision may continue to use the existing name. This is what non-taxonomists find frustrating, if not infuriating. Such people often become even more frustrated when told that there is no set of criteria nor any governing board that determines at what rank a taxon should be recognized at, or what its boundaries should be. There are stronger and weaker arguments, but there is not even complete agreement on which are strong arguments and which are weak. Taxonomy is not a field for those that require certainty in their life.

              That last line is why I can’t be a botanist. =-)

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              • I am VERY glad that I did not have this information when I took my graduate-level botany course as an undergraduate (silly me). The final exam consisted of 300 plant specimens, and a clipboard of paper with 300 numbered lines. Having taken 5 years of Latin (geek), I have no problem with classical Linnaean nomenclature, so I got 298 out of 300. The other two plants I did not recall having seen before. That was in 1978, when I don’t think anyone would have dreamt of messing with nomenclature, unless it was discovered that a) someone else had previously described the plant before the person whose name was attached to it, if that was the case; or b) if, as you said, the plant was discovered to be of another phylum or genus. Otherwise Linnaeus was sacred. I have long since forgotten all of that, since I had to make room for Gross Anatomy nomenclature! How boring these things can get, especially when politics enters into the mix, which seems to be the case these days. Thank you so much for this article! One thing for sure, the homeopaths won’t be changing any names: Rhus Radicans is still the same, as is Nux Vomica!

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                • You sure are a fascinating woman!! Botany to Doctor? That’s a shift! I’ve done similar, but I’m kinda fickle 🙂
                  I looked for a Latin class at my local college, but it seems they think Latin isn’t scire quod sciendum… Lame!

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                • Oh, botany was one of the many wonderful courses that came under the general heading “Biology” when I did my “premed” degree! I also got, with the same professor who is actually a Tropical Botanist, the most wonderful course of my life (or one of them), Field Ecology, in which we had monthly four-day weekend field trips consisting of canoe trips down beautiful Midwestern rivers. We’d pull in and camp, have food, and go night-trekking by flashlight–there is a whole world of critters big and small that come out only at night, and bat-pollinated flowers, etc etc. The Latin is because I am old and went to school in New England where they separated kids out into classes according to IQ scores–really a terrible thing to do–and the top two levels were forced to learn Latin starting in seventh grade. I, being an Asperger’s Syndrome geek, loved it, and continued into high school. I think it’s a woeful thing that it’s not routinely taught anymore, because our entire language group (the Romance Languages) is founded upon it, and knowing Latin makes learning French, Spanish, Italian, etc., much easier. Plus if you know Latin, you don’t have to worry about memorizing Levator Scapuli. It says right there, “the thing that elevates the scapula.” So unlike the other poor med students, I didn’t have to spend hundreds of hours memorizing anatomical structures. I mean, I looked at them and took notes, but it wasn’t a stressful situation like it was for them. And good for you for looking! I have no idea where Latin is taught anymore. Maybe online? I just wish they’d had Greek at my school!

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        • You two have certainly carried on the conversation here!! BTW, your conjugation is spot on of the verb love–I took Latin in 7th grade also, but had to (for my own sanity) repeat it in Summer School. Did the same with Latin II–guess I’m not the geek! But I aced French & Spanish–probably because of the Latin. It would not have been so bad but for the declentions (?) of nouns–UGH!!

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  4. I need merely make eye contact with the wretched plant and I am covered with blisters. I am a hunted woman by that dreadful plant.
    And now, just because I spoke evil of it, it will seek me out in my sleep.
    sigh

    Like

      • My father used to rip it out with his bare hands! And me….one time I was canoeing on some river in Illinois, and had to go under a big tree that was hanging over the river and it was lushly covered with PI. I covered my head with my arm and it brushed against the foliage, then came a rapids and I forgot about it. Well, it blistered up to the point where it left a scar, about a third of the area of my forearm! At least it wasn’t my face. I would have had to wear a ski mask so as not to scare people! As it was I had to wear long sleeves in the hot Illinois summer 😦 That soap is a good idea.

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          • Do you know the name of it? I’ve got some stuff with polymer beads that actually pull the oil off your skin even after a rash has started. Costs like ten bucks a tube but it’s worth it! Love to know the name of that soap, though. Hey I just put up a post about haying in Ohio, hey hay!

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            • I went to look at the poison ivy soap in my car.. It literally reads: ‘Poison Ivy Soap’ no more, no less. So, no idea where it came from, a box drugstore most likely, sorry. However, I did search it and there are many under $5 & made with jewelweed, a known natural cure. Burt’s Bees has one for $8.

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              • Thanks! Interesting that where poison ivy grows, you’ll usually find jewel weed close by. A horticulture question: since acid rain has trashed our region, poison ivy has shoved out tons of native species. Now the place is overgrown with it (and multiflora rose, eek!). If the PI has taken over because of acid soil, would it be possible to get rid of it by raising the soil pH, spreading lime, perhaps? What do you think?

                Like

                • Whatever I say will be IMO, as there are many other great points to take in this debate.
                  There are many reasons invasive weeds (invasives) are able to take a hold of an area. The pH of the soil can be a part of it, although not the only factor. We here in the Midwest are sitting on a limestone base… No pun (Ha, yes intended!) of base material. We are very alkaline here. No amount of ‘normal’ acid rain will sway our pH 8 soil. I tell my clients, embrace the pink hydrangea; you will fight to have blue.
                  Way back when (let us not argue the how) Mother Nature had everything fairly organized. See, she likes her house in impeccable order. Everything had its Yin/Yang, Black/Red, heads/tails… Most things flourished and enjoyed their particular part of the world. Most animals didn’t need to migrate. Distribution of invasives was not going to happen until an animal was able to travel long enough, to an area very much like it’s native land, however, minus any method to keep it in check.
                  We now have migratory birds… and well HUMANS! When the European people started coming to America, they brought plants that are grown in Europe. As they travelled inland, it was common practice to sow seeds for people after you, mostly food and medicinal plants. Landscaping cannot be forgotten either, everyone had to have their ornamental plants also. Taa-daa, invasives everywhere! Nevertheless, just to be sure we cover all of our bases, let’s ship insects around that decimates an urban forest in less than 5 years. Thank you Asian longhorn beetle, you’re such a bad-ass with your long, striped antennae… huff.
                  So, in a nutshell, in a world where you can be in Illinois today and wake up in Japan tomorrow (or is it yesterday?) Life will always find a way. It just always will! Didn’t you see Jurassic Park? 😉
                  Please don’t hate me after I tell you this… Poison Ivy is NATIVE to Illinois and much of the U.S. =-(

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                • Herm…..um…….yeah…..well, getting back to my question, if acid rain has substantially lowered soil pH, and since then our native PI, spread in so many ways it’s obscene, which is very happy in acid soils, and more importantly, many of the native species need a more alkaline pH so that gives the PI an advantage–my question is, rather than blast them off the face of the earth with Spectracide or something, which blasts the few native plants around too, would it make any sense to spread lime instead, and see if raising the pH helps? I’m talking pH in the low 5’s.

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                • Specifically addressing pH and how it effects invasive weeds: Native species are native to wherever they are from, acid or alkaline soils. The pH of a soil is not a huge deciding factor of where plants grow, although some do prefer one or the other, milkweed and pin oaks (acid preferer’s) are naturally in our alkaline soils here. The amount of acid that would have to be spread to change the pH of the soil would amount to thousands, if not millions of truckloads of acid. Most likely if attempted, would burn everything non discriminately as would using a herbicide.
                  There are other maintenance techniques that can be implemented to reduce invasive species such as; burning, crown clearing (PI likes shade), selective species reduction (cutting out non desirable weed trees), selectively herbiciding the offending plants, planting desired species (to crowd out invasives) and surface tilling.
                  PI is a horrible thing to us humans, however animals are unaffected by the oils that cause rashes on us pink, hairless apes. Birds nest and eat the berries along with deer and squirrels. To rid the world of PI would slightly be a disservice to our woodland friends. The best advice I have would be to be informed of what it looks like in all stages of its life and be aware if you’re in an area that can maintain PI.

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                • Hmmm, sounds hopeless for our countless miles of infested roadsides. When one has a dog and miles of PI-fringed private roads to ramble upon, it’s darned disappointing. Can’t let the poor dog off the leash, lest she go frisking merrily through the poisoned countryside, following her nose and the richness of scent among the three-leaved menace–all the other creatures who use the plant for food, shelter, and whatever…..the end result being a rushiol-covered beast who wants nothing more than a good pet and a romp on all the furniture at the end of the day. So since the local problem, at least, does not seem solvable by a few trucks’ worth of lime, I guess I’ll have to know when to fold ’em. I see the early stem-spikes reddening, some starting to leaf out…..now we have to get in the car and go somewhere less infested just to go for a walk, leaving the miles of unimproved private roads that we live on to the tyrant green giant….

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                • I toootally understand that it sux. I agree that along roads is not tolerable. I won’t admit to saying this later… I’d just spray Round-up (glyphosate) along the Right of Way. It’s really not a horrible herbicide to the environment.

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                • Heh, that’s exactly what I do. Me and my trusty backpack sprayer. I try to spare the wildflowers, but I know there is a certain amount of collateral damage…And then there are the trees. So far I haven’t figured out a way of cutting the huge vines without getting sprayed, not to mention having to contaminate equipment somehow….between poison ivy, multiflora and kudzu, we’re lucky to have any regular normal Appalachian flora left. I can tell you that 30 years ago this very same place was covered in galax, lilies of many kinds, all manner of useful herbs, ginseng, black and blue cohoshes…now you rarely see any of that. Heck, I rejoiced at finding a stand of Mayapple the other day! A lot of it has to do with the deer overpopulation. I just wish they would much on the pests!

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                • I couldn’t agree with you more. For the big ones, go during the winter, when the leaves are off and ‘girdle’ them. Wear gloves, juice can still zap ya. Cut a circle about 1/4 inch in. Done. Death. Woodies whole ‘circulatory’ system is just under the bark. A rabbit is capable of killing a 30″ tree, just by nibbling.

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                • Gloves, hell, I’ll wear a whole disposable HAZMAT suit before tackling the big hairy tree-climbers! And chunk my loppers into a can of kerosene, or maybe wrap them tenderly in a plastic bag and take them to the dump. I lived on an apple orchard for three years. One of my jobs was putting out mouse baits…the little suckers like to ring apple trees…worse, the moles do it just below the soil line! Or is it voles? Some little furry critter. I think it’s voles because moles eat worms.

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                • Ah, so you know the concept already. We here have had a lot of mouse, vole and rabbit damage this winter. You’re correct, moles are underground, voles look like mice w/o tales. I wish you the best in your endeavors, my friend! 😆

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  5. Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you will continue to find articles of interest.
    I decided to follow you so I can learn something about plants. I do okay with houseplants, but gardening is definitely not my forte. I’ve bought a packet of beet seeds. That’s as far as I’ve gotten! I’d like to do a garden so we can have fresh vegetables. My husband had good success with a square-foot garden when we were in Pittsburgh, but since moving south, gardening has been on the back burner.
    Also, I am creating an imaginary bush for my children’s fantasy book. Maybe I can learn enough to keep it realistic–well, somewhat.

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    • Thanks for following!!
      Gardening isn’t all knowledge, a lot of it is trial & error… I’ve had many errors and I’m supposed to be a pro!! (heehee)
      An imaginary bush for your novel, how awesome! It makes me think of the Lorax – “who speaks for the trees.” in the Dr. Suess book. There are so many wacky shrubs already, I don’t think you could be too odd to not be realistic. How about one that flowers and then they turn into birds? Ha, maybe I’m ‘quirky’ also =-)

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  6. Just returned from a 3 week visit to New Jersey, the Garden State. Poison ivy was a topic on several occasions with various friends and family. Thanx for distinguishing this from other plants. I am a hiker. And this kind of info is very beneficial. Peace.

    Like

  7. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    Having Poison Ivy festivals kind of blows me away. The rash pictures were interesting. I’m used to things like that having been a wound nurse for years. I hope I can avoid the blessed stuff. I don’t mind taking care of others with a rash, but I don’t want it myself. That shingles rash I had was plenty bad enough.

    Like

    • You’re totally right! I’ve actually got some in my shade garden that I can pop a photo of. I’m going to clean up this post and add more photos. It’s getting hits, cuz folks want to be prepared for it as is growing strong now… 👿

      Like

        • Oh I forgot to say……ooooooo, shade garden! Do you dig wild things up and transplant them (where it’s legal to do so, of course)? I used to be a compulsive wildcraft gardener (if there is such a thing)…I still have a male fern that I dug up 30 years ago in West Virginia. It’s the last of the collection. At first every time I moved I would dig the whole thing up and take it with me…then the moves took over and all I have left is this bit of what used to be a HUGE fern, that I gave to my mother who doesn’t ever mist it 😦 so I missed it…maybe I’ll get it back from her as I’m now living in 98% humidity (outside, that is…I have 3 dehumidifiers running indoors otherwise everything molds.

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          • Yes, I do dig/take interesting stuff when I find it in places I can legally take it from. I will also admit to taking seeds from not so legal places. .. I also have ferns I’ve dug from somewhere. .. Although you might not enjoy the stream bath, the fern will! HAHA!
            I totally understand your ‘wildcraft gardenening’ as I enjoy scouting for berries at harvest times. Right now mulberries & serviceberries are in season, so I’m fighting with the birds to collect them! Raspberries will be next. ..
            Believe me. . If I ever had an ‘episode’, people should go search for me in the forest, as that is where I’d hide. Being outside with trees has never gave me panic attacks! 🌳:D🌳

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  11. Poison Ivy and latex are about the only things I am NOT allergic to. Keep 2 epi pens on me at all times in case I go into anaphylaxis shock from my allergies. Discovered the fact poison ivy had no effect on me while hiking with the Girl Scouts in grade school. We were taking a break to relieve our selves in the woods. The leader freaked out when she saw I had squatted and urinated on the poison plant. Had no problems when I finished. Have never had a problems with that plant.

    Flowers on the other hand give me sever asthma attacks and I break out in the hives.

    I heard that poem as “Leaves of 3, let it be. Leaves of 4, ask for more!” Then again I grew up in Marissa, IL. People there are nor known for their intelligence.
    Jeanette Hall

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    • You’re very lucky to not have an itchy butt! I can’t imagine that I have avoided a rash as often as I am in the forest. I can only think that because I do have oily skin that it somewhat dissipates it? Or perhaps I wash it off in time?
      I don’t think I could be in this business with allergies. However, I would probably just carry 10 epi pens! 😀
      Thanks for stopping by!

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    • Thank you! It is fun to connect. I’m not a social media fan, but I love WP! All the folks I’ve met in here have been fun and encouraging. I think it’s because we all have writing as a commonality. 😃

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  13. Thanks for the information! My husband and I bought a house in the spring and there are definitely vines of poison ivy in the back part of my yard. If deer eat it, I would feel bad spraying it, but I also don’t want my cats to bring the oil into the house on their skin. Hmmm… I love the deer so I may just leave it be for now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to be helpful!
      Unfortunately, us hairless apes are the only ones that have issues with it. Birds and other animals eat the seeds, deer eat the leaves and it provides squirrels and other tree animals shelter within its thick growth.
      You’d have to assess how much of the forest floor is covered in it. If it’s more located on the trees and your cats aren’t tree climbers, you may avoid having to clear it. PI is very prolific tho.
      I’d have PI soap handy (inexpensive). If you do realize you’ve been skipping through a field of it, it can reduce the rash a bit. Zanfel is a great product! We have it at work for the crews. It is a bit pricey at $40 a tube (basically, 1 application) however is WELL worth the money to not have the painful rash.

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  14. I’ll never forget in college when I was taking a dendrology class during our final, someone tried to identify poison ivy by tasting it. You see, they had taught us that some trees, namely a certain birch tree, had a root beer taste (which is how they made birch beer). So this silly student actually was about to put it in his mouth…. I didn’t care it was a test, and was about to tell him, knowing that he could potentially get very sick, esp if he was allergic. The TA got upset and told me to be quiet. I explained the situation, and they just let the kid do it. He did indeed get the PI in his mouth….!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG hilarious!! 😂😅
      Sometimes it’s best to let people learn lessons the hard way. 😉
      I’ve had poison sumac, but not ivy. I hope to never enjoy it.
      We’re currently camping at a state campground that has PI everywhere! I can’t believe folks aren’t itching!

      Liked by 1 person

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