Thursday, June 23, 2011

Poison Ivy - my garden's hardiest perennial

I am very sensitive to and have severe reaction when exposed to poison ivy.  So avoiding them is critical to me - but I somehow get into it every year without fail.  I guess I could be 100% certain to avoid poison ivy if I never went into the garden, but that isn't going to happen.  Each year I'm spraying it and pulling it out (well someone else does that.) Then next year - there it is again! I guess that's all part of living next to the forest preserve.  But the seeds can get transported through birds - so it can end up everywhere.

So here's what I know - how to identify it in all seasons, where to look for it, how to prepare for avoidance, what to do when I get into it.

How do you know it's Poison Ivy?   It has three leaflets (groups of leaves on the same small stem coming off the larger main stem), but variations occur.  The leaves are bright green in spring, green in the summer, and red in the fall.  There are white berries. It can appear as a small plant, vine, shrub.  In my yard it also loves to dress up and put on costumes just to surprise me (LOL well it seems that way!)



Poison Ivy hiding in a bed of Vinca


Here you can see the bright light green color of new plants (and the spots from where I sprayed this with aggressive herbicide)

Clear leaves of three - let it be warning sign, plus note that the stem is red.


Where can you find it growing?  I find it frequently in shady moist places. It somehow grows under other plants in the garden. It hides places so that you get into when weeding!

How do you get the rash?  I seem to get the rash by just looking at Poisen Ivy or passing within 10 feet of it, but then I'm just blessed that way. I can also start with one little spot and it blooms into the craziest mess.  Case in point, look at this picture of my latest brush with Poisen Ivy... yuck!   A neighbor inadvertantly burned Poisen Ivy with some brush, wow what a mess and a trip to the ER. So don't do that.  The oil can get aeresoled and then get you inside and out. Also - any tool, towel, clothing that comes into contact with Poisen Ivy can be a source of contamination. Bad news - those tools can come back to bite you, even after several months!


Rash and blisters thanks to Mr. Poisen Ivy. :(

Damn Urishiol!  That's the name of the oil in Poison Ivy that causes the rash.
(also called Toxicodendron dermatitis and Rhus dermatitis).  This oil is contained in various plants, including the shell of the cashew nut).  That's why you cannot get a raw cashew - they have all been processed (heated) to change the nature of the urisiol.  All parts of Poison ivy contain this oil - some parts more than others. That's why they say that you have to break the leaf to get the rash - because there is more oil on the inside. But hey, that ain't a fact for some people like me. :(

So what do I do to avoid or treat? I always always wear gloves, long pants and long sleeve when working in the garden.  No surprise that this latest rash was from contact at that space between my glove and my sleeves.  I didn't even know it happened.  Immediately upon contact, that is when I know I've gotten into it, I wash my skin with a dilute solvent solution (generally alcohol and or acetone) and then follow with solution of soap and water (COLD water - warm water opens the pores and spreads the oil further!) This is because the oil is not water soluble, so the solvents help to remove the oil.  I have a bottle of solvent in the garage and ready to go - because I've read that the bonding of the oil to one's skin can occur in less than 10 minutes, so I don't want to waste time getting into the bathroom or medicine cabinet!  I also use this solution to periodically wash my garden tools.  I friend also just suggested a poison ivy preventative lotion.  There are over-the-counter creams that contain Bentoquatam, this chemical bonds to the Urisiol rather than your skin! So I'm excited to see if this works!

So I'll leave you with two jokes my boys used to think were so funny.
- What do you get when you cross Poison Ivy with a 4 leaf clover? A Rash of good luck!
- "I'm not afraid to walk through Poison Ivy!" said the fool rashly.

The song of the day is the Blues.
Keep singing

Teresa Marie