Poison ivy spreads by plant’s oil

Q. I plan to clear weeds and brush off our bank. How do I know if I get into poison ivy plants? I hear there are look-alikes?

Stan from Salem

A. Poison ivy is a pain for people any time of year. The vine grows quickly under power lines, in fence rows and in flower beds. That’s because birds love the fruit of this vine. After it goes through their system, the seed is deposited where ever they hang out after their meal.

So what does this stuff really look like? I commonly get people who say they won’t touch a wild vine because they fear getting poison ivy. But this vine has three leaves, so we say, “leaves of three, leave it be!” In general, that will keep you out of trouble.

The most common plant mistaken for poison ivy is called Virginia creeper, but that is a five-leafed vine that also grows wild in our area. Both plants put on a fabulous show in the fall with a bright red hue. Virginia Creeper is sold at some garden centers, even though it is common throughout the Mahoning Valley, and mostly considered a weed.

Understand that the oil from this plant will cause a rash on most people. Be sure to wash the area with COLD water as soon as possible, along with soap. Hot water causes the plant’s oily toxicant, known as “urushiol,” to penetrate skin faster. Our factsheet says “because urushiol can penetrate in a matter of minutes, you may still get a rash, but at least you have contained the infected area.”

Also, if you are burning brush or firewood that has poison ivy attached to it, be aware that people can contract a rash by exposure to the smoke.

Our OSU factsheet states there are three effective methods to eradicate poison ivy in ornamental beds: hand-pulling or grubbing; severing the vine, then treating the regrowth with an herbicide; or applying an herbicide to individual leaflets.

For more information, refer to our factsheet: http://go.osu.edu/poisonivy.

Eric Barrett is the OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the extension hotline at 330-533-5538 Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon to submit questions.

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