Friday, October 3, 2014

Poison Ivy - Outdoor Hour Challenge

For this week's Outdoor Hour Challenge, we focused on poison ivy. Despite all the walks that we have done together, we have not spotted poison ivy either on our farm or on hikes we've taken.

However, Sophia and Olivia both said that a senior friend of theirs, Mary B., showed them what poison ivy looks like since she has it on her property. So, they have seen it and know what it looks like.

According to the Handbook for Nature Study, "poison ivy may be found creeping over the ground, climbing as a vine, attached by aerial rootlets to trees, walls, or fences, or growing erect as a shrub."

Knowing how to identify and control poison ivy is your best defense since it can take so many different forms.


According to the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County:

Poison ivy has a compound leaf consisting of three leaflets. The leaflets are two to four inches long, dull or glossy green with pointed tips. The middle leaflet is usually a bit bigger than the two side leaflets. The margins of the leaflets can be toothed, lobed, or even smooth. The leaves are positioned alternately on the stems. 

The important phrase to remember is: "Leaflets Three, Let It Be."

The University of Nebraska also noted:

Blossoms appear in late spring, white berries in late summer. 


Poison ivy can be confused for other plants in the woodlands.

All parts of the plant are poisonous at all times of the year - including the roots. And, even the dead leaves in winter!

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 85 percent of people have an allergic reaction to Poison ivy. It may take several exposures to Poison ivy to trigger an allergic reaction and each time you have a reaction it might be different - even in the same year! 

The oily toxin in Poison ivy is transmitted when the plant is injured - a break or just a nibble from an insect. Because the sticky, oily toxin is easily transmitted, there are indirect ways to contact it, for instance, from the fur of the family pet, garden tools, garden gloves, clothing, golf balls or other objects that have come in contact with an injured plant. 

The oily toxin can remain active for several months to a year on objects.

Interestingly, both poison ivy and poison oak are called the "great mimics." Both plants have a harmless appearance and are difficult to distinguish from other plants. They tend to adopt the growth pattern of the plants that surround them. For example, if they take root among tall shrubs, they will grow as tall shrubs. If their home is a field with no tall growth nearby, they grow as a short, innocent-looking weed.


Another clue to identifying this plant is that the leaves tend to have a dull gloss, especially in the Spring when the foliage is new. This sheen is the toxic oil that coats all parts of the plant: Urushiol (pronounced you-ROO-she-all).

Like a mosquito bite, but 1,000 times worse, your immune system tries to eliminate the areas of your skin that made contact with the plant. Those areas of your skin begin to itch at an unbearable level. Scratching the itch, though, only makes it worse. By scratching, it spreads the oil to unaffected areas.

Calamine Lotion and anti-itch medications can be applied to the skin to alleviate the painful - and annoying - itching. They help the healing process by numbing the itch reflex, and providing a coating on your skin.

The Handbook of Nature Study also suggests that "soaking in hot water usually gives relief. The application of baking soda, one or two teaspoons to a cup of water, is often effective in relieving the pain caused by the inflammation."

The FDA recommends that if you rubbed against poison ivy to rub alcohol immediately on the affected area so it wipes the oil off your skin. So, on hiking it is a good idea to carry alcohol wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

As soon as possible, wash the affected area with soap and water. Also, any clothing or items you wore or came in contact with (e.g., sheets, pajamas) all need to be washed since, as noted above, the oil can stay on items for up to a year.

Even if a dog went walking with you and was near the poison ivy, it would be a good idea to wash the dog too. Again, the oil stays on whatever it came in contact with - whether it is a human, animal, or non-animate object.

After we learned about poison ivy, Sophia and Olivia did a page in their nature journals about this plant.

Sophia's nature journal entry.

It's a bit different than other nature journal entries because they focused on the information only and/or a drawing of the plant based on pictures they saw of it on the internet.

Olivia's nature journal entry.

Since we didn't have poison ivy near us and the girls had quite a bit of other work to do in other subjects, we opted not to go out today for a walk. Had we come across poison ivy, we could have used All Things Beautiful's example about how to study poison ivy up close and even get a leaf rubbing from it.

In retrospect, I think we should have gone outside and enjoyed looking at the changes the farm is going through this autumn. Even though there wasn't poison ivy available to study, the colors of the leaves and changes during the past week have been substantial.

We used the Poison Oak, Poison Ivy, and Sumac - Leaves of Three post on the Outdoor Hour Challenge for inspiration for the study this week.

2 comments:

Rita said...

You're lucky you had no poison ivy to examine on your land! :) :)

Barb McCoy said...

Really nice journals! Thanks for sharing your entries with the OHC Blog Carnival.