You’re Gonna Need an Ocean, of Calamine Lotion

I recently posted on Facebook some photos of the area around our home. We live in thick woods surrounded by most plants and animals common to our area. That includes an abundance of poison ivy and other things that may make your skin itch.

One of the photos was of our wooden walk from the drive to the screened-in porch at the back of our home. Along the walk is a large tree with English Ivy growing up the trunk. Mixed in with the good stuff is a smattering of poison ivy and a plant named Virginia creeper. Some visitors to the posting seemed to not be able to identify the good from the nasty vegetation so I decided to do a little educating.

When walking through nature in Ohio there are basically three plants one needs to be aware of, poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. I really don’t know how common the latter two are but poison ivy is everywhere and my property is no exception. I’ve got a couple of pine trees that one could argue are being held erect by huge poison ivy vines. I’ve cut their vines with loppers on several occasions but after a few years, they return as healthy as ever. If those trees die and/or fall over I’ll just have to burn them in place rather than try to physically cut them up and remove them by hand.

The classic three leaves of poison ivy.

Identifying the three poison trees is relatively simple. It’s a matter of counting the compound leaves. Poison ivy and oak have three leaves on each stem. The edges of the oak are more jagged but it doesn’t matter. If it has three leaves, leave it alone! Poison sumac is different and you have to be able to count higher. I don’t think it is considered a compound leaf but there is a uniqueness to it. The stem has several rows of directly opposite pairs of leaves with a single leaf at the end. Like all the poisons the plant and leaves will change colors during the season.

The common but non-posionous, Virginia creeper.

Another vining plant that’s common is Virginia creeper. We have lots of VC on our property and thankfully, it is not poison. It’s not particularly attractive so when it begins to take over one of our outbuildings I pull it back.

I think most people are allergic to these poisonous plants but some are not. As a kid, I spent most summers with rashes on my arms and legs. Sometime in my thirties, I developed an immunity to poison ivy but in my sixties, the allergy returned. On the other extreme, some people report being so allergic they literally can’t walk by a plant without experiencing a reaction that sometimes requires a trip to the doctor for shots of steroids and more.

If you’re unsure take some time to study the photos I’m providing and if need be, Google the subject and you’ll find hundreds of plant photos and information.

Here’s wishing you a rash free remainder of summer.

NOTE: After writing this piece I was walking along our walkway and noticed a plant that didn’t look familiar. Upon closer inspection, I decided it was poison sumac. I took a photo and compared to other pictures I found online and I think I’m correct.

Poison sumac and English Ivy.

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