Evil has a name, and at our house, it’s poison ivy. I wasn’t always an optimistic gardener — in fact, before I got married, I’d never even cut the grass — but by the time I got my first …
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Evil has a name, and at our house, it’s poison ivy. I wasn’t always an optimistic gardener — in fact, before I got married, I’d never even cut the grass — but by the time I got my first pair of gardening gloves, I could identify poison ivy.
My husband is horribly allergic, and when he was younger, he wandered through the woods with abandon and often came home covered in weepy rash. I jest, to a degree, but it doesn’t change the fact that he still asks me to confirm whether vines are poison ivy or something else.
Unlike kudzu and other non-native, invasive species, poison ivy is a native plant and naturally occurring in woodlands. And here in Chatham County, we’ve got a lot of woodlands (wahoo). It feels like it’s everywhere, though, like some great looming wraith. And with the warmer winter and lack of snow and freezing temperatures, it feels like this is going to be a bad year for all the things that annoy us.
But when I spoke to Chatham County Horticulture Extension Agent Matt Jones, he said, “I think conditions (mild winter, wet spring) have been favorable for growth of many weedy species, including poison ivy, but I don’t think it is an especially bad year for poison ivy, per se.”
Consider this, though: rising temperatures and higher amounts of CO2 have created the perfect photosynthesis setting for poison ivy to thrive. In 2006, Duke University led a research project that pumped extra CO2 over three plots of pine forests in N.C. The result showed more robust vines and “more virulent chemicals within the plants.” (EverydayHealth.com)
Thriving poison ivy, even at its “regular: growth rate and new normal in this warmer world, is bad news for anyone sensitive to the “high severity poison characteristics.” (NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox). According to the American Skin Association, “about 85 percent of people are allergic to poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak.” That’s a lot of folks watching where they walk.
So how can you avoid getting poison ivy? Garden and recreate smartly and preventatively, of course. Wear long pants and sleeves when you’re in wooded areas, where poison ivy (and poison oak and sumac) might be. Wear gardening gloves when you’re working in the garden, and avoid touching your face or any exposed skin.
If you do get poison ivy, urushiol oil in the sap is the culprit. “First comes the itching, then a red rash, and then blisters.” (FDA.gov) About 15 years ago, after a really bad systemic allergic reaction (and a two-week steroid regime), my husband learned about a product called Tecnu. Had we bought stock in it at the time, we’d be richer than Elon Musk. Maybe. You can follow the package directions, but what works for Mr. Sickles is to get in the shower and rub a couple handfuls of Technu onto dry skin. He lets it sit for about five minutes, and then turns on the water and washes it all off. He repeats the process again on wet skin, and then goes about his normal shower routine. He’s had little blister patches about the size of a thumb nail on occasion, but for the most part, if he can catch it in the first few minutes of exposure, he can stave off the worst of the reaction.
Getting it out of your yard is an epic battle. The University of Georgia’s Extension office notes that “Poison ivy will not tolerate repeated tillage, cutting or mowing. Continually clipping the plant at or near ground level during the year for several years will eventually control poison ivy.” There are other herbicide control methods, of course, but if you’re like us you try to avoid anything that’ll interrupt the honeybees. Also, don’t burn it because all of that urushiol can be carried on soot particles and cause an allergic reaction. So patience is key for a poison ivy-free yard.
Got any tips for holding poison ivy at bay?