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Poison Ivy

Ever been told "leaves of three, leave me be"? Simple but effective reminder not to touch plants with three leaves because it may be poison ivy. Why do some humans have such a bad reaction to poison ivy yet some animals touch it, eat all parts of the plant and drink it's nectar? The itchy rash in humans is caused by an allergic reaction to the oily resin called urushiol. This oil occurs in all parts of the plant, whether alive or dead. Don't burn poison ivy because particles of urushiol remain in the smoke and can aggravate your eyes, nose and respiratory tract besides landing on your skin. You must come in direct contact with the plant's oil to be affected. Fluid from another person's blisters doesn't spread the rash. If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash your skin as soon as possible. The reaction usually develops 12-48 hours after exposure and lasts up to a couple of weeks.

How to recognize poison ivy? This valuable plant for wildlife always has three leaves, one on each side and one in the center. Photo one is a picture of poison ivy plus a comparison to poison oak and poison sumac. Poison ivy leaves are shiny with smooth or slightly notched edges. It can grow as a shrub or as a hairy, woody vine that looks like a fuzzy rope. Don't climb it!

In the spring, insects such as small bees and flies pollinate the flowers and caterpillars feed on the leaves. Larger animals such as deer, black bears, muskrats and rabbits eat the entire plant...fruit, stems and leaves. Many of our winter resident bird species such as woodpeckers and other birds rely on the poison ivy's berries. The birds help to disperse the berries by passing the seeds through their digestive tract undisturbed.

Therefore, poison ivy is a plant that humans don't tolerate well but is a valuable source of food for wildlife in all of our parks.

Can you identify poison ivy on your hike? Send us a picture!

poison ivy poison oak poison sumac pictures
poison ivy vine with hairs
poison ivy flower and berries