Poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, is a real-life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It can be a very attractive vine, especially with its orange and red fall coloration, and its seeds are a food source for birds. However, most people are quite allergic to it and can develop a very serious rash if they come in contact with the leaves, stems or roots.
In order to control it, or avoid it, it is important to know what it looks like. It is also very important to teach your children how to recognize it! Poison ivy occurs most commonly as a relatively low growing ground cover. It also grows as a climbing woody vine. When growing in this form, it will grow up trees, fence posts and even telephone poles. You can tell if it is poison ivy by the many aerial roots that give the vine the appearance of a fuzzy rope stuck to the tree. The leaves of poison ivy are compound leaves that always have three leaflets. The middle leaflet has a longer stalk than the other two side leaflets. This typical three-leaflet appearance gives rise to the saying, “Leaves of three, let it be!” Poison ivy may often be confused with Virginia creeper, but Virginia creeper has five leaflets rather than three.
It is possible to control poison ivy by hand pulling – always with gloves and long sleeves – but this potentially exposes one to the rash-causing sap. It also leaves the sap on the gloves and shirt which must then be washed – never with other clothes, or discarded. It is often a good idea to rinse out the washing machine afterwards to make sure there is no residue in the machine.
Chemical control is probably the most practical means of eradicating poison ivy. Check with your local nurseryman or garden center for the most recent and best chemical controls. Spray the foliage to the point of runoff and be sure to get total coverage. Repeat applications are often necessary. And, since birds eat the seeds and carry them about for a while, it can show up again in subsequent years even after you have sprayed and killed it. Vigilance is a key to identification and eradication.
Images from Wikipedia.