Poison Ivy

by Christine Hanrahan (2003)

Leaves of Three, let it be!”

Description: This plant can range in size from a very low shrub to a climbing plant. The form found on Petrie Island is the low shrub. Each compound leaf is divided into  three leaflets which are a glossy green, tinged with bronze in early spring, and turning red in fall. It produces a cluster of waxy white fruit which persists throughout the winter, providing food for birds.

Did you know that poison ivy is a member of the cashew family? But don’t worry, eating cashews won’t make you itchy, but touching poison ivy might.

We say “might”, because not everyone is allergic to this plant, but for those who are, contact can be nasty indeed.  When a susceptible person comes into contact with the plant blisters  and a very itchy rash occur. The best remedy  is to bathe affected areas in hot tap water. Some say calamine lotion works, others suggest rubbing alcohol, but for those most severely affected, a trip to the doctor is in order for something stronger.

Simply touching the plant is not usually a problem. It is the oily sap that oozes out when the plant is broken, crushed or burned that causes the rash and itching. But since the leaves can easily break it is best to stay away from the plant and leave it be.

Does Poison Ivy have any use at all? It sure does! The fruit provides food for many birds in winter including ruffed grouse, yellow-rumped warblers and northern flickers. Rabbits browse the twigs for winter food and several moth larvae feed on the leaves. Wildlife apparently suffer no ill-effects from the plant.