Plants are Friends Most of the Time

Plants really are our friends…most of the time. When it comes to poison ivy, oak and sumac, I wouldn’t consider them too friendly. If you have ever had one of these three “frenemies”, I’m sure it wasn’t a very pleasant experience.

Each of these plants releases a toxin known as urushiol. Even the smallest amount of urushiol that touches your skin can cause an itchy red rash that can last as long as a month. Whether you are gardening, trimming bushes, playing golf (because we all have been in the woods before looking for a lost ball), or taking a walk in the woods, make sure you keep your eye out for the following:

Poison Ivy: “Leaves of three, let them be.” Probably the best known for its three pointed leaves with bumpy edges. The middle leaf has a longer stalk than the two on the sides. It generally will grow as a climbing vine and it is commonly seen attached to trees or large shrubbery.

Poison Oak: Very similar to poison ivy, however, the three leaves are lobed which means they have deeply indented margins. Poison oak will generally grow as a shrub, however it can also climb like a vine.

Poison Sumac: Much different leaf structure than the other two, poison sumac has sharp compound leaves with several leaflets attached to the same stalk. It can appear to look like a large weed or small tree, which can reach up to 12 feet tall.

The best way to minimize your exposure to poison ivy, oak, or sumac is to eradicate the plant from the landscape. One option is to remove it mechanically by hand. One option is to remove it mechanically by hand pulling (with gloves and proper clothing, of course). Removing the plant by the roots will provide excellent results. The second option is to use an herbicide. There are a number of herbicides that are registered for use and will vary in effectiveness. Read and follow the instructions on the label and treat several times to get the best results.

When you or your family is outdoors do your best to protect yourself by wearing proper clothing, gloves and footwear. If you think you came in contact with the plant, you should rinse the areas thoroughly with cold water to help remove the urushiol. In as little as 15 minutes this toxin can bond to your skin, so the sooner you can rinse it off the better control you may achieve.

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