Is That Poison Ivy?

Many people look forward to summer as a good time to get outside.  Others dislike summer because it means battling the itchy rashes associated with poison ivy.  Knowing how to identify the plant and combat the rash can lead to a more pleasant summer season.

As the old adage says, “leaves of three, let them be.”  Poison ivy leaves are comprised of three smaller leaflets that are joined together by a single stem.  The point where the leaflets come together is normally red in color.  Sometimes the leaflets get so large –each leaflet can grow to 8 inches long – that they are unrecognizable.  Another way to recognize these mature poison ivy plant is to look at the woody stems.  All along the stem, there are small roots that give the woody stems a ‘hairy’ look.

Poison ivy is usually seen in overgrown or wooded areas.  Sometimes it grows up tree trunks, other times it creeps along the forest floor.  As vines grow up trees, they will produce fruit that is eaten by birds and spread further throughout the forest.  The leaflets turn bright orange and yellow each autumn.

One out of two people who come in contact with poison ivy will get an itchy rash because of the oil produced in the plant.  This oil, toxicodendrol, is found in every part of the living plant and can persist on secondary surfaces such as clothes or pruners for up to a year after contact.  The rash may appear within three hours of exposure or may take up to three weeks to appear. During this time, the rash may appear to be spreading, although it is not.  The ‘spread’ is just a delay in reaction from the previous exposure.

Reduce your risk of developing a rash by washing the affected area with soap and water within 10 minutes of exposure.  Be sure to wear closed-toed shoes and long pants while in forested areas.  Apply preventative lotions, such as Ivy Block, before going outdoors.  Lastly, never burn any part of the plant; oils can volatize and be inhaled.

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