The plant accursed by every hiker, hunter or gardener, Poison Ivy. How to spot it, how to destroy it, how to repair the damage it causes. Why it persists in the environment, and even a few kind words in its favor (grudging, of course). Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the plant, but would prefer to learn second-hand.

Poison-ivy is the bane of the outdoors man A chameleon of plants, it may appear as a humble ground-dwelling ivy with tree-foliate leaves, as a shrub and even as a hairy vine wrapped around trees. Yes, the rhyme, “leaflets three, let it be” is excellent advice. Another has it, “Don’t be a dope, beware the hairy rope,” also equally true. Poison-ivy is a fooler. It can be quite beautiful for something so nasty. In the Fall, it sports the most magnificent red color, but make no mistake, this is one troublesome plant.

Closely related to useful plants such as the mango and cashew, the poison-ivy, Rhus Radicans or Toxidendrom Radicans is well distributed in six subspecies located throughout the United States. No one who has ever had a run-in with this plant has anything good to say about it, yet it does have its place in the ecosystem. Poison-ivy is among the white tail deer’s favorite foods—one more reason to resist petting the tame deer one mins across in suburban Long Island and other areas where people and deer are accustomed to live in close proximity. Poison-ivy is also a favorite treat of many birds who obligingly carry its seeds to new locations, thereby explaining the damnably widespread occurrence of this vile weed.

The chemically active toxin is an oil known as urushiol. This oil can persist on clothing and skin until washed thoroughly. If exposed, wash quickly and well with lots of oil-free soap and drop your clothing into the wash as well. Regardless of the temptation, never bum poison-ivy. The smoke when breathed remains allergenic and can cause serious injury. Regrettably, the only way to get rid of it is by hand, noxious piece by piece or by covering it with black plastic to starve it of the light it needs to grow, or in the extreme, using herbicides.

The first exposure causes no reaction, but once one has been sensitized , the oil creates an increasingly serious reaction with every exposure. One way to lessen the severity of the allergy is to avoid contact. Some related plants such as the mango can also produce cross-reactions in sensitive persons. Once upon a time, a closely related plant used in lacquer manufacture was the mystery source of interestingly patterned rashes that appeared after contact with toilet seats.

So how to treat poison-ivy? Obviously, the first line of defense is avoiding it. Don’t be fooled. It can be a ground-cover, a small plant, a vine, a shrub, it may even look like a small tree. In the Spring, Summer or Fall, look for compound leaves in groups of three. The leaves may be smooth or toothed. In the Fall, a beautiful scarlet red is another tip-off. During the winter, look for hairy, thick vines wrapped around trees. Although leafless, they’re quite potent. If you are exposed, remove the oil pronto. No oil, no rash.

If you move quickly enough you will side-step the problem. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you are immune just because you have not developed rashes before. Sensitivity develops over time and can get pretty bad.

If you are in the woods when exposed, look for Jewel Weed or Plantains. These common weeds are specific against poison-ivy. The Jewel Weed is closely related to the garden plant known as Impatiens, Touch me Not or Busy Lizzy and grows in streams and moist areas. The oil from this plant binds chemically with urushiol rendering it inert. This plant is also edible if you are ever desperate enough to try. Plantains, or what the Irish call, Dock, is a broad-leaved weed often found in gardens and the crushed leaves are also helpful to prevent or soothe rash.

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