The first five letters of the scientific name for poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, say all you need to know.
Contact with less than a grain of salt’s worth of urushiol, the plant’s oily resin, is toxic enough to produce a painful, itchy rash in nearly anyone.
Read on to learn more about poison ivy, including how to remove it from your landscape.
Identifying Poison Ivy
Nearly everyone knows the mantra, “Leaflets three, let it be,” for avoiding poison ivy. But there are other things about poison ivy leaves to help you positively identify it.
Each closely arranged leaflet will have pointy tips, and the middle leaf will be larger than the side leaves. Poison ivy leaflets will be a waxy green on top, with a fuzzy and lighter green underside.
A Brief History of Poison Ivy
An early mention of poison ivy came in a 1624 account from English explorer John Smith. He compared the plant to English ivy but noted that touching it would produce redness, itching, and blisters.
Nonetheless, over the next several decades, poison ivy was sent regularly from the Americas to Europe. The plants flourished in many private European gardens. Ironically, poison ivy was at the time investigated for potential medicinal properties.
In this century, research into poison ivy has resulted in development of a technique for detecting urushiol with ultraviolet light.
Recognizing and Treating Contact With Poison Ivy
If you or a pet comes into contact with poison ivy, the signs are easy to recognize, and treatment is straightforward.
While a skin rash is the most common manifestation of poison ivy, it’s not the first sign, which is intense itching.
If you’ve had poison ivy contact previously, the rash will appear within hours. However, if you’re experiencing your first contact, it can take two weeks or more for the rash to appear.
Once a rash does show up, it will be red, itchy, and blistering. Any blisters will break open before eventually disappearing, usually within a couple of weeks.
In many cases, long before contact with poison ivy takes its course, it can be treated at home. An initial step is to take cool baths and use commercially available lotions, wipes, or soaps. Check with a local pharmacy or go online to Amazon for products for dealing with poison ivy rash.
If you have a more serious poison ivy rash with continued swelling, or if the rash affects your eyes, mouth, or genitals, visit your primary care physician. Also, see a doctor if blisters are oozing, if you develop a fever, or if the rash lasts more than two weeks.
As a special note of caution, if you’ve breathed in any smoke from burning poison ivy, and are having difficulty breathing, head immediately to the emergency room. The reason for your difficulty in breathing is poison ivy toxins swelling your airways, and you need quick medical attention.
In most cases, the first indication of pet exposure to poison ivy comes when its owners show signs of contact. That’s because the pet may have brushed up against poison ivy, trapping the toxic urushiol resin on its fur and transferring it by contact to its human family.
Most pets won’t feel ill effects, but you’ll want to remove the urushiol to keep them from spreading it further to humans. You’ll need to protect your skin while bathing your pet by wearing rubber gloves and other protective clothing.
Use a degreasing shampoo, apply it vigorously to your pet’s coat, and rinse thoroughly.
How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy
There are numerous ways to get rid of poison ivy, although the option of burning it, either while in the ground or pulled up, should never be considered.
And here’s another word of caution: Even after you’ve pulled up or otherwise gotten rid of poison ivy, you can’t be 100% certain it’s gone.
Poison ivy is a perennial plant. It can persist for years as long as part of it remains in the soil. Some poison ivy roots may remain in the ground even after the most thorough removal effort.
Depending on how fast any poison ivy remnants grow, it can take a few months to a few years to get it completely out of your landscape.
Most professional landscapers manually remove poison ivy. That’s an option for homeowners, too, with some precautions.
Before weeding, wear leather gloves with gauntlets, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and boots. Place the pulled-up plants and roots into a plastic garbage bag for disposal.
After pulling out the poison ivy, wash your work clothes separately from other clothing.
Boiling Water and Another Household Remedy
There are several household remedies for dealing with poison ivy. The simplest, albeit temporary, fix is pouring boiling water over the plant. The boiling water will kill the leaves but won’t affect the roots.
You can also make a homemade herbicide by mixing a solution of 1 gallon of white vinegar, 2 cups of Epsom salt, and a quarter-cup of liquid dish soap. Gently swirl the ingredients and apply the mixture using a garden sprayer.
There are some commercially available herbicides for poison ivy. Check Amazon for a wide selection of herbicide options.
Benefits of Poison Ivy
While poison ivy is a nuisance and can be a health threat, it does have environmental benefits.
Birds and other woodland mammals aren’t affected by poison ivy, and its berries are a good food source. That’s particularly true for local bird populations, which often compete with migrating birds for nourishment.
Migrating birds usually will eat more energy-dense options like dogwood berries. When that happens, local birds can fall back on poison ivy berries untouched by migrating birds.
Elsewhere among the animal kingdom, poison ivy berries and the rest of the plant are routinely eaten by deer, black bears, and muskrats.
When growing, poison ivy plants produce a network of roots and rhizomes — growths that can produce new poison ivy shoots — that help keep soil erosion at bay. Along coastal areas, poison ivy helps keep beaches in place.
Wrapping up Poison Ivy
If it’s not too close to areas of your yard or neighborhood that children or pets might frequent, you can leave poison ivy alone. But if you need to remove it, you now know how to do it.
If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.