But Poison Ivy, Lawd’ll Make You Itch

So it’s not just my imagination that everywhere I look this summer where there had never been any before, poison ivy rises from the ground growth around the house and barn.

But then again, this observation is probably NOT related yet to the anticipated rise in both abundance and toxicity of this ubiquitous town-and-country vine as CO2 levels continue to rise. Ours were probably just spread by birds eating and dropping seeds EVERYWHERE around here of late.

But the future promises more and better poison ivy. So, parents: I know you agree with me that children need to play outside more and inside less. Right? And you don’t want them to resist getting out of the house because they’re afraid of something they could be taught to recognize and avoid. Google images of PI.

So I’d recommend this at age 5 or 6: make a supervised game of “look don’t touch” and train your child to spot PI as many places as you can in ten or fifteen minutes around your house, in the park or woods where they play. Teach them “Leaflets three, let it be.” But then, not all three-parted viney plants are itchy. Help them learn the difference and avoid sitting down in it to watch the butterflies.

And roadside photographers seeking those Unplanted Gardens we talked about: fencerows–around here at least–are PI hatcheries, and if you wear sandals without socks, find yourself a coathanger to keep near your computer chair, ’cause your going to need a long-handled scratcher for a couple of weeks.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. It is the bane of my existence. It has taken over the natural woods area between my house and my neighbor’s; it has spread unrelentingly and it doesn’t seem to respond to repeated spraying with roundup. What to do?

  2. if you do come in contact with the dreaded PI, try tecnu skin cleanser. i had a poison ivy rash already started, applied the cleanser and it cleared nearly all the rash — only two small spots left. i imagine that if you applied it immediately after exposure (their instructions say within 2 – 8 hours, and i didn’t apply it til the next day), the results would be even better.

  3. i’ve had poison ivy rashes all summer long… just when it clears up, i get it again. and i even know what it looks like. it IS very prolific this summer.

    we were in NC for a month and my parents property was overrun with it. i’ve already had to teach my son about it…. i caught him pulling a huge vine of it off a tree. he was going to use it for a “tarzan vine”. 🙂