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Leaves of 3 - Leave them be!

It's time to brush up on outdoor safety for your summer adventures. One of the most common problems is bumping into poisonous plants when you are out hiking...or even gardening.

Either POISON IVY or POISON OAK is common in most regions... and they have look alike cousins and wannabe's that make it a chore to keep innocent children, pets and eager outdoor adventurers out of danger zones. Poison Oak is a western US plant; and its cousin, Poison Ivy is largely an eastern US native.

Here are a few tips on dealing with these native plants that have a good well as a self-protective side to their nature.

POISON IVY is a woody shrub or vine with hairy looking aerial roots. It grows to 10 feet or more, climbing high on trees, walls and fences or trails along the ground. All parts of poison ivy, including the roots, are poisonous at all times of the year.

The toxin in poison ivy is an oil which causes an irritating skin reaction on many people. The reaction, an itchy rash with clear blisters, varies in severity from person to person, and can vary from year to year on the same individual. Isn't that reassuring!

The Missouri Department of Conservation tells us that the poison ivy reaction can be reduced if you change clothing immediately and wash the exposed skin with soap and water. If you can wash all the oil off exposed skin within 5 minutes of contact, no reaction will occur. Even water from a running stream is an effective cleanser. The oil from poison ivy can remain active on clothing and footwear as long as a year so be careful not to expose yourself to the oil again. The oil can also be transmitted on pet fur and in the smoke of burning poison ivy.

Poison ivy is a nuisance to people, but compensates by having considerable wildlife value. The white, waxy berries are a popular food for songbirds during fall migration and in winter when other foods are scarce. Robins, catbirds and grosbeaks especially like the berries. Many birds feed on insects hiding in the tangled vines. Small mammals and deer browse on the poison ivy foliage, twigs and berries.

So, plan your outdoor adventures with respect for the variety of plants you can encounter.

  • Know your native plants -- it pays to learn about safety in your surroundings.
  • Take water and first aid supplies with you.
  • Stay on trails when you go into wild areas--unless you are a very well prepared hiker (or led by an experienced guide).

There are products that can be applied prior to anticipated exposure...or to cleanse your skin after exposure. Talk to your pharamacist for the best alternatives for you.


Here are some plants that cause confusion because they look so much alike:

Poison ivy . . . three divided leaves...

Poison oak . . . three divided leaves...

Fragrant sumac . . . three divided leaves...

Box elder . . . three to seven divided leaves...

Virginia creeper . . . three divided leaves...

Poison sumac ... three divided leaves...

. . . you get the picture ;-) Check these sites for photos and drawings of these lookalike plants:

Wayne's Word, a natural history newsletter for California

Missouri Department of Conservation:

Backyard Poison Plant Control

There are a number of chemical herbicides that can be used to remove poisonous plants from your yard. Before undertaking their removal, check with your local authorities on use of poisons, the dangers of each, and the most effective application for your particular terrain.

Excessive poisons can get into the ground water, and stay around long enough to cause problems for wildlife, so while it is important to protect your loved ones from the immediate dangers of poisonous plants, it's wise to keep in mind that poisonous chemicals can do just as much damage when used in the wrong way.

Here are some sources of information about poison plants in your backyard nature preserve:

Oregon State University Extension

Health World

And for a bit of folklore...and humor, check out this site:

Only at Berkeley!

Remember to take a nature break...and be aware of your surroundings.

For more articles about WILDLIFE GARDENING

Garden Decor: Aquascaping for Beauty and Purpose
Butterfly & Caterpillar Gardening and the Environment
Water Gardening is the New Frontier
Rocky Sloped for Habitat
Mailorder Gardening for Wildlife Friendly seeds and plants
Butterflies are Flowers of the Air