Thursday, May 7, 2015

Vinegar Experiment, part 2

Remember last year when I tried to kill poison ivy with vinegar? Here's the original post:

Well, it didn't exactly work 100%.  A lot of it died, but some came back this spring. As you can see below, here are nice new red leaves on that plant.

And about 10 days later, the leaves turned green. Worse yet, there were more of them.

I think I'm going let it grow for a little bit  to see how many of the leaves really do come back. Then I'll spray with more vinegar and see what happens. The real test will be if it comes back again.

The thing with poison ivy (or any other plant for that matter) is that they must have foliage to make their food; you know, photosynthesis. When I killed off the leaves last fall, the plant still had some energy stored in its roots. Therefore, it could make more leaves. But, it stands to reason if I kill the leaves enough times, eventually the plant will run out of energy and actually will die. I'm going to try that and see what happens.

Of course, though, I might have another use for the plant. Last year I had this test plant in a pot. It was growing nicely and was very happy in the pot. I went away on vacation and my neighbor would not water it, so I came home and it was dead. (I can't say as I blame her for not watering it. She didn't want to take care of the scorpions I was babysitting from work a few years ago, either.)

The plant that died never grew back. I'm telling you that the surefire way to kill poison ivy is to just stick it in a pot.Works every time for me.

I'll keep you updated on what happens with the next round of vinegar.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

It's back...

Spring has finally arrived in Ohio, and although it took a few weeks, the poison ivy is back again. There's usually a few weeks of plants coming back to life before it shows up, but it always shows up sooner or later.

This vine is already well established on a tree, but is growing new leaves. These are shiny and waxy, but remember that not all poison ivy has shiny/waxy leaves. That's not necessarily a clear method of identification.

The plant below is getting ready to bloom. Yes, you heard right... poison ivy does bloom.

So, is the pollen toxic? The research I've done has given mixed reviews. Some sources say yes, while others say no. For the ones who say yes, they generally agree that you need a fair bit of it to cause a problem. In my mind, no one in their right mind it going to get that close on purpose and start sniffing at a poison ivy plant... or at least I'd hope not!

I'll post some flowers once it blooms. It's actually rather pretty!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Poison Ivy Vines

I get a lot of emails from folks asking me to identify whether their plant in question is poison ivy.  If the plant is attaching itself to something, one of the things I look for is how it is attaching and what the attaching mechanism looks like.

Poison ivy attaches itself with dark, hair like aerial roots that may have a slight reddish cast:

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Before it gets to that state, though, the hairs start off small. The following is of my test plant. It is starting to send out vines and therefore is growing these roots. From a distance, they look like hair. Close up, they look like small, woody pieces.

This is another test plant I had a few years ago that started to do the same thing. Notice how there are some roots that really look like hairs and some that look soft:

By using these roots, the plant can attach itself to fences, telephone poles, trees, or just about anything else the plant feels like climbing. 

Why does poison ivy climb? According to Smithsonian Science:

"What triggers a poison ivy plant to climb is a mystery. Some poison ivy plants climb right away from seedlings and others do not. Individual populations of these plants often contain a mix of climbing and non-climbing plants."

When the vines get old enough or thick enough, they can cover an entire tree trunk. Unlike some other plants that can kill the host tree, such as the strangler fig, these vines rarely cause a problem. They can grow to the height of a the tree and even look like the tree.

These vines, no matter how big or small, all contain the same oil that causes the rash, so DO NOT TOUCH.  When fall comes and the plant starts to die back, the oil is pulled from the leaves back into the vines and roots, which means these are not safe to handle or touch at any point.

There are many of these vines where I work. When our crew encounters them, they cut a 6-8 inch piece out of them. This will cause the plant at the top of the vine to die, but it can take a while. They generally just leave the bottom part and it rarely grows back.

That being said, if you choose to remove a large vine, be careful. Clean your tools completely when finished. I have read that extremely small droplets of urushiol oil can spray out when cutting a vine or breaking a root, so clean yourself, your clothes, and your shoes.

The best advice is to get rid of the plant before it starts climbing. However, since the plant often grows mixed well with others, it can be hard to tell what it's up to until it's climbing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Cats and Poison Ivy

This is my cat, Ram (short for “Ramachandra”, pronounced “rom” as in CD-Rom). He is a rescue cat – someone dumped him off at my property in subzero February weather.  No shelters in town would take him, so cat #4 joined the family.

However, Ram is a holy terror. So much so, in fact, that he lives in the garage. If I leave him in the house unsupervised, he does more damage than an F5 tornado. Thankfully, he loves the garage, probably because there are mice.

He also likes limited outdoor activities. We have coyotes in the area, so he’s not allowed to live outside, but he does run out whenever open the garage opens. He makes his way into the front yard and does cat stuff like climbing trees and rolling in catnip.

What does this have to do with poison ivy, you ask? Well, about a week ago, Ram got out and ran up the tree my test poison ivy plant lives under. When he came down, he came dangerously close to my plant. So, I moved the plant to a location that was likely not going to be interesting to him… the unused half of the driveway.

As luck would have it, Ram got out again a few days later. I went to get the mail, turned around, and – you guessed it – Ram was showing extreme interest in the poison ivy plant. He looked like he was rubbing his face against it. It was dark, so I am not 100% he rubbed it, but it sure looked like he did.

Now, Ram did not and will not have any issues. Cats do not have the same allergic reaction that people do to the urushiol oil in poison ivy. But, I knew that if he did rub it and then rubbed me, I’d have the oil on me and I’d get poison ivy. You see, animals such as dogs and cats will get the Urushiol oil on their fur when they come in contact with the plant and the oil can transfer easily to anything it touches, including furniture, beds, carpet, your hands when you pet the animal, etc.  The oil also stays active for a long time, so it’s not like it will become ineffective soon. This is how people who never go anywhere outside get poison ivy: they touch an object or pet that has come in contact with the plant.

I wasn’t 100% sure what to do, so, I called a vet, who assured me that the cat would not react. Her advise? Dry-rub the cat and then bathe him.

Dry rubbing was good. I used old towels in the garage and vigorously rubbed Ram down. He loved it and stood there purring. He even was ok with me wiping his face a number of times. He seemed to really love the attention.

As for her second piece of advice… wash a cat? Really? I thought to myself - have you ever done this without the cat being tranquilized? Don’t you think the phrase “madder than a wet cat” comes from someplace? In fact, I HAVE washed a cat and have scars to prove it. Cats do not like to be wet, and copious amounts of water are necessary to get the oil diluted to a point that it becomes harmless.

But, I also knew I was not OK with oil all over God only knows where in my house or garage, so I got the bathroom ready. I have one of those flexible shower sprayers and planned to use that. I turned the water on and got it to a decent temperature.

I knew immediately that Ram wasn’t going to go for it. I no sooner closed the bathroom door and started to move him towards the tub that he went completely ballistic. Sounds started coming out of that cat that I didn’t know cats could make. Seriously, I should have filmed this. It was like the exorcist on steroids. He started biting and clawing and I knew there was no way washing this animal was going to happen. Washing the cat could prove more deadly than a rash. So, I let Ram out of the bathroom washed myself instead.

Fast forward 2 days. I have this suspicious set of red spots on my arm that look like I might have scraped myself on something or it could be the start of a rash. It’s been a long time since I have had a rash, so I will have to wait and see. I  also remind myself that I was mowing this morning and had a close encounter with a tree, so that might also be the source of my red area.

I guess I just have to wait. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to see if the homeopathic remedy Rhus Tox really works. I’ll let you know. In the mean time, the plant has been moved to the unused firepit in the back yard - no where near Ram's tromping grounds.

Update 8/30: I did not have a reaction, so either the cat didn't get into poison ivy, I got it off of him correctly, or I do not react.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What's wrong with this picture?

Below is a photo of poison ivy I have growing at my home. Notice anything strange about it (other than I am purposefully growing poison ivy)?

The second photo shows it best: there is a group of only 2 leaflets instead of 3. Poison ivy always has 3 leaflets, but sometimes one can fall off, get bumped off, or eaten (humans are the only ones who react badly to this stuff; in fact, deer and rabbits supposedly love it).  Point being that poison ivy always has 3 leaflets unless something has damaged the plant. 
I don't know what happened to this leaf on my plant. God knows I didn't touch it!

What is it? Wednesday - Answer to "3 Leaflets!"

I few weeks ago, I posted a photo and asked if it was poison ivy or not. The answer is no, this is a young box elder tree.

Box elder is one of the most-often confused plants when compared to poison ivy. Just like poison ivy, it has 3 leaflets, the leaflets are often shaped similar to poison ivy, it can appear shiny, it grows in the same area as poison ivy, it has reddish stems, and the middle leaflet has a longer stem than the side leaflets.

What differentiates it from poison ivy is the leaf arrangement. When you click on the photo below to enlarge it, you will see two sets of leaflets right across from each other, circled in red:

As my identification skills got better, I also noticed a difference in the main stem of box elder. In the photo above, you will see two lighter colored bands around the stem (the bands are not limited to two, that's just all that is showing in this particular photo.) Poison ivy does not have these types of markings.

Poison ivy has alternate leaf arrangement, which means leaflets alternate sides of the stem - they are never right across from each other. There may be a rare occasion when they are pretty close to right across from each other, but that would be one rare spot on the plant, not the entire plant. This is alternate leaf arrangement on poison ivy:

Any time leaves are opposite, you can't be looking at poison ivy. This is a poison ivy leaf circled in orange below. It contains 3 leaflets. Leaf arrangement refers to each group of 3 leaflets (which makes 1 poison ivy leaf). It does not refer to the arrangement of the 3 leaflets to themselves.  

So, if a plant displays opposite leaf arrangement, it can safely be ruled out as poison ivy. Also, if you're looking at a plant that looks an awful lot like poison ivy but has opposite leaf arrangement, you're likely looking at box elder.

The original post can be found at

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Poison Ivy Life Cycle, Part 1

Poison Ivy - Early Stages

A poison ivy plant starts from a single seed. The seed spouts and produces two basal leaves (the two large leaves in the photo below.) Notice the two tiny leaves starting in the center of the plant. This seedling is approximately 3/4 to 1 inch wide.

I took the above photo at work. There's this amazing tree that is entirely covered in poison ivy and it makes hundreds of seedlings each year.  I showed the photo to a woman I work with and she said, "Aww... it's cute!" It actually kind of is cute when it's little. Too bad it becomes such a pain in the butt later.

Within a week, the two center leaves start to grow:

After about 1 week to a week and a half, two small leaves appear on either side of each leaf that has been growing. The basal (large oval leaves) have not changed:

After roughly another week, the side leaves are getting bigger:

This is another plant of the same age. Notice that the plant above shows notches in the leaves, but this plant does not. Not all poison leaves have notches.

Now it's starting to look like something resembling poison ivy. Depending on sun, rain, soil conditions, and other factors, this is about 3 weeks after it spouts.

After another week or two, a new set of 3 leaves erupts and it really starts to look like poison ivy.

Notice that the lowest two sets of leaves are directly opposite the stem from each other. Poison ivy leaves are always arranged on the stem alternately, not opposite. This is one of the criteria that can be used with certainty to identify poison ivy. However, when the plant is very young like this, the leaves are opposite. This is the only time you will see this on poison ivy. Read more about alternate and opposite leaf patterns.

Give it another few weeks and the leaves start to get larger, it looks more like poison ivy, and the leaf pattern is clearly becoming alternate. The basal leaves are still present, but they will drop off as the plant matures.

You probably would see poison ivy in this stage in your garden or flower beds. I had it all over the place at work because of the huge poison ivy plant covering the tree that dropped so many seeds, but you're probably finding it because the birds "planted" it for you.

Birds love poison ivy berries and suffer no ill effects whatsoever from eating them. Within the berries are seeds, which pass through the digestive track of the birds unharmed. The birds eat the berries, fly someplace else (like your yard) and poop. Pretty soon you'll have baby poison ivy plants!

These are immature poison ivy berries. When they mature, they will turn white.

I currently have a test poison ivy plant growing in a pot at home. As it matures, I'll post photos as it develops in Part 2 of Poison Ivy Life Cycle!