Gardening can be an immensely enjoyable and rewarding activity. However, there are some risks that we must be on the lookout for, and those can take the form of poisonous plants like poison ivy, and poison sumac. Poison oak is another poisonous plant often grouped with ivy and sumac, though it is not usually found in our region of Southern Ontario. Poison sumac is only found in very wet areas and more rare compared to poison ivy.
Poison ivy is spread by birds who love to eat the pretty berries that form on the vines. Depending on their location, you may find it as a vine or a bush with leaves that can be notched or smooth. In fact, there are two types of poison ivy that can be found – Eastern poison ivy and Western poison ivy. In the spring, the leaves (always in sets of three to the stem) can be reddish in the spring, green in the summer, and yellowish/orange in the fall. They never have thorns or saw toothed leaf edges.
Poison ivy can be difficult to identify as there are similar-looking species that grow in the same habitat and because of the variable shapes and colours the plant can take. Remember the adage of “leaves of three, let them be”. They can grow in dry sandy areas or swamps, along the borders of woods, or climbing up trees, shrubs and posts several meters above ground.
Controlling poison ivy can be tricky. You never want to burn the plant as the oils can spread through the air and can be fatal. And the oils can stick around on the leaves even after the the vine has died off. The best way to control poison ivy is to cut off any above ground branches and leaves, bag it, and leave it for your regular municipal trash pickup. One site recommends wearing thick plastic shopping bags as gloves to avoid getting of the oils onto your hands while covering up and protecting all other areas that could be exposed. Clean all tools with cool water and/or vinegar. To dig up the roots, drench and saturate the soil with water, and very carefully pull up the roots. It can be a tedious process, but one you want to take seriously to avoid it spreading and causing even more issues in the future.
For lots more great information on identifying and removing this vine, check out these resources from the Ontario Ministry and the website Poison-Ivy and their photo identification guide.
Cover Image by John, used under its Creative Commons license.