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!

"What is it?" Wednesday - 3 Leaflets!

This plant has 3 leaves. Do you think it is poison ivy? If not, what do you think it is?

Answer is coming next week!

Last week's answer to What is it Wednesday?

These are milkweed (Asclepias) plants in bloom.  Milkweed is a perennial that is more than happy to spread all over my yard. Milkweeds are often visited by bees and are a larval food source for monarch butterflies. I have one milkweed plant in my backyard that is approximately 7 feet tall and is often surrounded by a number of bees. My dad got some plants from me and now complains he can't get rid of it. I keep mine because of the bees and because I have had some monarch larvae on the plants... that and it's pretty!