Leaves of three, let them be

Whoever said good things come in threes never met poison ivy.

Those shiny leaflets grouped in threes along a stem are anything but good. To be honest, the plant’s evil powers don’t come from the leaf but from the oil and urushiol they produce. 

Learning to identify poison ivy is important. Changing its identity is another evil power of the plant. The leaves appear reddish in the spring, then change to green in the summer months, and finally yellow, orange, or red in the fall.

The stems may be slightly reddish and can become hairy as the plant ages. When left untreated, the vines can reach more than two inches in diameter.  

A hairy two-inch-around vine that scales trees and buildings – sounds like a nightmare! That’s right; poison ivy can grow vertically. It will grow horizontally on the ground, but don’t be surprised to see it attached to and climbing on – well, anything it can find.

Poison Ivy is often found in the less manicured parts of gardens. Along the fencing, wood piles, or shady forested landscapes. Although it will grow in the sun, the plant prefers the garden’s dappled shade or undergrowth.

Once identified, the only option for this evil plant is death. There are several ways to make this happen.

I use chemicals. I know, I know, I should not promote chemicals, but I want to ensure it meets its demise quickly, leaving nothing behind. Look for sprays that contain a 3-way herbicide that includes dicamba, mecoprop, and 2,4-D amine or an herbicide that uses triclopyr and glyphosate. 

Labels on most spray bottles list plants seduced by their contents – just another way of saying what plants the contents will kill.

If you prefer the DIY route, take notes from my Michigan friend. She has a recipe of 1 gallon white vinegar, 2 cups Epsom Salt, and ¼ cup Original Blue Dawn dish soap she has used for the past three years. 

The internet may suggest pouring boiling water over the plant. This will kill the leaves above the ground (and maybe nearby plants) but will not disturb the roots. The evil poison ivy will return.

If you decide to try pulling it by hand – suit up. Wear long pants, socks, closed-toe shoes, long sleeves, and gloves. A gardener can not be too careful. I have one neighbor that even puts plastic bags over her gloves.

Trim the above ground leaves and stems. Be sure to cut, not tear, the leaves. Tearing can release urushiol into the air and cause potential breathing problems for those nearby.  

Dig the roots. They shouldn’t be that deep – no more than a foot underground. But they can spread wide, so go big. Dispose of them in a waste bag, not the compost or burn pile.

Once the yard work is done, it’s time to clean up. Wash your hands with soap. A quick scan of the pharmacy shelf will give you lots of options for specialized soap, but any will do. Be sure to launder your clothes in hot soapy water.  

Don’t forget your pets. If the pup is in the garden and rubs against the plant, the oil will be on its fur. Although animals are usually not bothered by the urushiol, they will bring it indoors, and one quick run against your leg and the oil is transferred.

Identify, remove, and clean up. If you begin to itch after all this, there are many lotions and potions to help lessen the pain and speed recovery. These work for most people; I am not that person.

My mom could pull it with her bare hands and never get one red bump. Me? I look at the stuff and have swollen eyes and blisters over most of my body – nothing, and I mean nothing, works as a cure except a trip to the doc. 

Be safe out there. I may play and call this plant evil, but for those who react to the oils, it can be a painful and serious reaction.