I was pulling weeds when I came across a poison ivy plant that was sandwiched between a pair of shrubs, and since I'm sensitive to poison ivy, I didn't touch the plant until I was appropriately prepared.
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy) grows wild throughout North America and the Far East. Many varieties exist, but specimens can range in size from being just a few inches tall to 40-foot vines suspended from trees.
Our native varieties of poison ivy have several things in common. For instance, they have attractive, ivy-like and shiny-green leaves arranged into groups of three. Plus their leaves turn attractive shades of red, orange, yellow or bronze in the fall.
Looks, on the other hand, can be deceiving, because all parts of a poison ivy plant contain a compound called urushiol oil and, for many folks, including myself, contact with this compound — at any time of year — can cause an unpleasant, allergic reaction that includes painful itching and blistering. Even indirect contact with the oil — such as by handling tools or clothing contaminated with it — can cause an allergic reaction years after they were contaminated. In fact, simply inhaling the smoke of burning debris that contains poison ivy plant parts can cause severe respiratory problems.
The best way to get rid of poison ivy for someone allergic to it is to pull it by its roots and have it taken off the property by someone not allergic to it.
The second-best way to rid a property of poison ivy is to kill it without touching it by using a herbicide labeled for the plant.
Another way to deal with poison ivy — if you must handle it — is to wear disposable gloves and make certain that no part of the plant touches skin or clothing.
If your skin, clothing or tools are contaminated, however, wash them with a product such as Tecnu poison oak and ivy treatment, a special, waterless soap that removes the urushiol oil in time to stop a rash.
Beware, though, if you happen upon a green-leaved specimen that you didn't plant with "leaves-of-three": either let it be, or intercede appropriately.
This week in the garden
Keep lawns looking greener longer by raising the deck of mowers. Taller blades of grass stay greener longer because their roots are also longer, and longer roots reach more water.