Leaves of three, let them be. Berries white, take flight.
You may be surprised to learn that poison ivy is actually a native plant to New England. This fact hardly makes us feel any better about the noxious weed. Every part of the plant – root, stem, vine, leaf, flower and berry – is poisonous to human beings, causing a potentially nasty rash. Interestingly, we are the only species on the planet allergic to poison ivy.
The plant releases an oil called urushiol which is responsible for the allergic reaction that can occur when it comes in contact with the skin. A person can be exposed to the oil by direct contact with the plant, by secondary contact with pets, garden tools or clothing that have been exposed to the oil, or by smoke given off by burning the plant. The rash usually appears within 24 to 48 hours after exposure.
Controlling poison ivy
Unfortunately, poison ivy is ubiquitous across the Midwest and New England, generally growing along roadsides in sunny, cleared areas. There are two primary ways to eradicate the plant: physical removal and herbicides. Both methods have their limitations.
Removing poison ivy can be risky. You need to be covered from head to toe to protect yourself from exposure to urushiol. Your clothing, gloves, and shoes will need to be washed afterward or discarded completely. There is no easy way to dispose of the plants; even the exterior of trash bags can get contaminated with urushiol, thus exposing yourself, your family, or sanitation workers.
Herbicides will do the job, but they will also kill any other plant that they come in contact with, including vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs. Plus, they are potentially harmful to people and the environment.
So, what is a gardener to do?