Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans
I’m feeling itchy already just anticipating writing this blog. It was not until I was well into my adult life that I first got a Poison Ivy rash, complete with huge blisters. OH! How very painful it was. Fast forward 30 years or so and I’ve grown to love, or at least truly appreciate the native plant.
Yes I do hold the plant in high regard, even though I am now extremely sensitive to urushiol, an oil found in all parts of the plant. The urushiol is not a defensive mechanism but rather aids the plant with retention of water. Urushiol is also found in Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. A similar oil is found in the skin of Mangoes, and its leaves and bark. Nice to know about this. I won’t be chopping any Mango anytime soon, and will leave the preparation to someone else if it is on the menu. Eating the flesh of the Mango is no problem for me. The shell of the Cashew nut also contains a similar oil, and only creates a skin reaction until the Cashew is roasted. After roasting, the Cashew shell is problem free for those sensitive to urushiol.
This (photo above) is how a Poison Ivy plant starts out in spring, a brilliant crimson announcing its entry into the world. Perhaps the color is a warning. It certainly tips me off.
As spring begins to think of summer and warmth, as the Poison Ivy bursts forth with a thick growth of leaves, the plant blooms, with tiny pale yellow-green petals in clusters. The stamens are a standout color of school bus yellow.
As I’ve hiked my mountain trails I’ve noticed that one butterfly in particular will seek refuge on the leaves of the Poison Ivy plant. Time after time, individual after individual, Northern Pearly Eye butterflies (picture above) will alight on those leaves as if they provide some safety zone. These butterflies can feel safe. I will not hunt them down, except with my camera, while they are sitting on the Poison Ivy leaves!
Those leaves that are safety zones for some butterflies, can compete with any of the trees of autumn with their outstanding colors. Turning bright sunshine yellow, pumpkin orange or a rich deep red, they bring on an artist’s palette of warmth.
I am a big fan of Mother Nature whether it is birds, trees, flowers, frogs, toads, snakes, spiders, geology, weather – all aspects of it. This brings me to the above picture. The fruit of the Poison Ivy plant, drupes. Birds depend on these drupes as midwinter leaves them with few things to eat. I have seen many woodpeckers congregating on the Poison Ivy vines that wrap, cling and climb my huge oak trees in front of my cabin in late January. Little to eat but salvation in the Poison Ivy drupes.
The woodpeckers are not the only critters that find a meal at the Poison Ivy vine. Here a Chickadee dines on the drupes, keeping an eye on me, as he does.
I remove Poison Ivy when it emerges in one of my gardens, or on my paths that I regularly use, but if it is growing where only birds and the creatures of the woods venture, I leave it for them. I appreciate the beauty and the need for this native plant.