Click this picture
for a Larger,
more detailed version!
a career gardener, I
know what it looks like,
and I believe that most
folks have one image of poison ivy in
their mind from an early
hike taken in the 7th grade . I
took this picture (to the right) because it shows all of the
identifying elements of poison ivy anatomy. (Click on the picture
for a HUGE file size version that you can zoom in on.) The largest
of these three leaf clusters is what most folks imagine when
they hear the name: Three even leaves - each almost the size
of your hand or palm - growing on medium length petioles with
an alomst glossy red shine to the upper surface. Hairy growth
from the shaft of the vine is also a commonly recognized trait.
In this picture you can see that older "hairs" (lower
on the vine) darken with age, and the newer, more active "hairs"
are usually pink. Notice that each set of three leaves grows
on its own stem from the main vine. Notice also that each leaf
stem alternates ... one grows to "the right", the
next one to "the left".
people have the overall shape of the Poison Ivy leaf locked
into their memory. To the right you can see some of the finer
details that distinguish Poison Ivy from other plants. (Click
the picture for a higher resolution picture.) You will notice
first that petiole of the center leaf extends the leaf out from
between the side leaves. Also notice that the leaves ARE
slightly lobed. The side leaves show this mainly along their
"outer" edge, and the center leaf shows it evenly
on either edge, about 2/3 of the way to the tip. I have heard
people say that they know poison Ivy when they see some red
in the twig or petiole...but I have to say that for the first
half of the year (through June or July) you won't notice much
typically only see the hint of pink or red at the junction at
which the leaves grow from the stem (look closely at any of
these pictures). In the picture to the right you see a seedling
Poison Ivy vine (thanks to J. Delaney for letting me "grow"
this one to this point for an example on this site!). Boy...it
doesn't look at all like the text book example, does it? Rub
its leaves across your arm if you don't think this is poison
ivy, and about four days later please send me a picture - I
could use an example picture of the rash! (Back
WHAT MAKES Poison Ivy SO IRRITATING?
makes poison ivy so irritating is a chemical called urushiol.
It is most highly concentrated in the leaves, but it is also
found in the other parts of the plant.The
urushiol is in the sap, so if you don't get
the sap on your skin, you won't have any reaction.If you do
come into contact with it, the A-number-1 thing to do is RINSE
thoroughly, gently, and generously with copious ammounts of
cool or cold water. Hot
water will only open the pores of your skin and increase the
urushiol pentration deeper into your skin...and using soap right
off the bat will most likely only spread the oil around - not
to mention that applying soap will encourage you to rub harder
than you need to. Just rinse. Don't irritate your skin! If you
have to work around poison ivy - or even directly WITH
it,as when pulling it out of shrubs by hand - your focus needs
to be NOT
CRUSHING OR BRUISING THE LEAVES AND STEMS!Wear
gloves which you will throw away when you are done, and it is
also a good idea to wear long sleeves, too. Find a light weight
cotton long-sleeve "Henly" style shirt at your local
thrift store, and match those sleeves by wearing long pants,
It is important also to remember that this Irritant Oil (URUSHIOL)
is very persistent. Do not wash "Poison Ivy"
clothes with the rest of your laundry!
Need I say more...?
(Back to TOP)
most commonly mistaken for poison ivy are Virginia
Creeper, Hickory Tree Seedlings, Fox Grape, and even
Wisteria Runners. Stay tuned for a photo gallery of PI Imposters!