Monday, September 21, 2015

Beware the Vine

I made the choice early on to live in a quiet neck of woods in a small Morris County town, where we have lakes, grassy hills, and tons of trees. In fact, homeowners cannot cut down trees without applying for a permit with the town first, and getting approval. There is a steep fine for not abiding by this rule, and our Shade Tree Commission goes to great lengths to enforce it. We take our trees very seriously.

As I've gotten older, I find myself being more and more grateful for the gifts nature provides, looking to the trees for solace (as opposed to searching out a group of people that I could chat with to kill time). Last week, while waiting for my son's first cross country meet to begin, I soaked in the rolling hills and beautiful large trees that surrounded the race area. While walking, I was tempted to reach out and run my fingers through the thin branches of hanging leaves, until I noticed the three leaf pattern: matching sized side leaves with one larger big leaf between them (forward facing). This is the classic poison ivy leaf pattern.

The hanging leaves, even the thin branches at the center of this tree, are poison ivy leaves on vines. There were so many that, had you not paid attention, you'd have thought they were the tree's benign leaves. Looking at the upper leaves off the main branches of the tree, you'd have seen the tree is a maple tree.

I looked closer to try and understand how much of the tree was taken by the poison ivy. Shockingly, most of the trees had climbing poison ivy ropes, with leaves at eye level. It is a public park, and the poison ivy is part of the landscape, for better or worse. Still, I wondered how many people might have walked through these branches, unaware that they were poison ivy; how many might have found themselves with the rash and wondered where it came from. Perhaps, passing this info to you will prevent you from grabbing a poison ivy leaf. A neighbor once taught me the following precaution, "Leaves of three, let them be." If you keep that in mind, you'll be in good shape.

Look at the leaves of three (beginning at the left of this photo, midway up, in focus). That's poison ivy.

While I am not a trained gardener, living here has made me quite familiar with the stuff. People think that poison ivy leaves are supposed to be shiny, or green, or red, or smooth. Well, it's all true, at different stages. The one thing that is always true is the size pattern (to note: there is a strange weed that has a similar pattern but has thorns, which poison ivy does not).

Seasonally, the leaves change color. They get bigger, too. Bigger than a human hand. So don't confuse the size with safety. While dogs and cats can rub up against the poison ivy and won't get a rash, the urushiol (the oil that causes the rash) can rub off onto furniture or you! causing you to get the rash without being exposed to the vine.

Be mindful of the vine. It contains urushiol, as well. The vines get hairy (think, Thing, from the Munsters). You can get poison ivy from the hairy vine, even if it's been trimmed from the tree and is dead. 

The vine attached to this tree - the thick, hairy one - is a poison ivy vine. If you look near to the vine, you will see the small leaves of three. There are also other weed leaves, and the trees leaves, so the poison ivy is somewhat masked.

I know more than one story of people who burned logs and branches, unaware that they were burning poison ivy. In one story, one of the people inhaled it and had a reaction in their lungs, requiring hospitalization. In another, the smoke caused a huge rash on my friend's face, also requiring hospitalization, intravenous steroids, and more.

You can easily make yourself aware of what poison ivy looks like in all seasons, and it's vines, and prevent yourself from getting a rash. If you bump your wheelbarrow (shovel, ax) into it, there's a solid chance that the urushiol oil is on the wheelbarrow and must be properly cleaned. I am obsessed with this vicious little vine, and while walking with my kids, my husband, anyone really haha! I point it out.

Take note, be aware, and then go enjoy nature.

1 comment:

  1. A Summer without having poison ivy is a successful one in my house :)