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It’s in your nature: Leaves of three

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    “Leaves of three, let them be.” Poison ivy has three leaflets. Get familiar with their shape and color. Note the particularly glossy new leaf growth to help you in identification. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    Virginia creeper has five leaflets, is also very common here and is not poisonous. It is often misidentified as poison oak, which is not found in this region.

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    Virginia creeper leaves turn red in autumn, helping in its identification. They climb well also.

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    This is sumac, but not poison sumac. Commonly found in this area is staghorn sumac with its characteristic red fruits, and in summer a soft, velvety trunk.

Published June 22. 2019 06:57AM

As a youngster in East Weiss-port, I explored, hiked, “built forts” and nature snooped. The neighborhood gang all did those things. Somehow, they “got poison ivy” and I didn’t. I thought I was immune. Well, that isn’t the case now. When I mow, fish or do my forest wanderings I avoid poison ivy. I now get the blisters and itch. Apparently once you get beyond your teens, almost everyone becomes affected by poison ivy.

Poison ivy is a common plant throughout much of the country. (Except deserts or very dry areas) It is VERY common in the Times News area. It has three leaflets, rather waxy looking, and its newest leaves look very shiny and glossy. It creeps along the ground but will quickly begin growing up a tree trunk or wall if the “runners” contact them. They do produce flowers, and in late summer and early fall produce whitish berries.

Poison ivy leaves produce a VERY potent oil called urushiol. When this reaches your skin, it soon causes blisters, reddish irritated skin and swelling. You will feel the need to scratch the area due to the itchiness, but scratching does not spread poison ivy. If someone touches you, it is not contagious.

You probably know our first line of defense is our skin. The epidermis (dead outer layer) keeps the oil from the dermis for only a short time, so if exposed to this oil, quickly wash the skin with lukewarm water and soap. Do not put the same clothing back on, because it still holds the oil. Urushiol is extremely potent, and a drop the size of a pinhead can cause 500 people to get the rash. You should never burn poison ivy, because it causes the oil to become airborne then, affecting your eyes or airways. Using a string trimmer or mower can send the oil airborne as well.

Poison ivy is not entirely bad. Deer and many other wildlife species love to eat the foliage with no harmful effects to them. The berries are craved by woodpeckers, cedar waxwings, robins and many other birds and are important as a winter survival food for these animals.

A neighbor once reported to me that he was working outside and got into poison oak. He showed me the blistering and rash. However, poison oak is not found in this area. Another plant blamed for this irritating skin reaction is poison sumac. It can be found in our area but is very rare. If is found more commonly in the southern counties of our state and generally only in very wet areas.

Some people give staghorn sumac a wide berth because they are misinformed of its reputation. (It’s not poisonous.) The accompanying photo will help you identify it. Another common plant growing alongside poison ivy, Virginia creeper, is often identified as poison oak but is not poisonous. It can overrun your flower bed though.

Test your outdoor knowledge: What rodent species is seeing a rapid decline in our area? A. muskrat, B. meadow vole, C. Beaver, D. woodchuck.

Last week’s trivia: The paper nest in the photo is made by the baldfaced hornet.

Contact Barry Reed at

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