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Village of AsharokenThe small but powerful Village of Asharoken

June 2010 Gardening Article:  "There's Always a Flaw"      By Joan G. Hauser

This year, while Iíve been reveling in the extraordinary lushness of my perennials and roses, Iíve come once again to the sad realization that nothing is perfect. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is just as lush as everything else. To my surprise, Iíve discovered poison ivy plants within my beds, nestling furtively amongst the ferns, twining up the Kousa dogwood, and generally raising havoc in my ordered world.

All of us who live on Long Island should be able to recognize this poisonous plant. It has the appearance of three shiny leaves two to four inches long, (they are actually three-part leaves with three leaflets per leaf) which grow opposite each other. The plants can be found trailing on the ground, becoming a bush, or climbing into trees. The vine can rapidly take over and as one friend ruefully told me, look so attractive when they turn red in the fall that she used a generous spray in a flower arrangement. NOT a good idea!

All parts of the plant contain resinous compounds known as urushiols which can cause an often painful and lingering rash. Direct contact with any part of the plant, touching of animals, clothing, or garden tools that have been in contact with the ivy, or exposure to smoke from the burning of the plant can cause an allergic reaction that will last for a few days to weeks. You can also spread it on your own body if the oil lingers.

Leaves of three, let it be!
"Leaves of three, let it be!"
If you do come into contact with poison ivy, the most important thing is to cleanse the urushiol-exposed area as soon as possible. Itís best if this is done within 10 minutes. In the old days, I used to use Borax yellow soap and leave it on my skin. Nowadays, I use Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy Scrub, which works well for me. Rubbing alcohol is another possibility and simple hot soapy water is what the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County recommends. If youíre stuck outside, look for some plantain, a familiar weed in most of our lawns, crush the leaves and rub on the infected area. There is also an over-the-counter ďbeforeĒ product called IvyBlock, containing Bentoquatam, that can be applied ahead of time to protect your skin from urishiol. Although I haven't tried this, it is said to be effective.

Contaminated clothing can be washed with hot water in the washing machine. Dry cleaning is also effective as long as you let your dry cleaner know that clothing is infected. If you canít wash right away, make sure you seal the contaminated items in a plastic bags to keep them separate from your other clothing. Other kinds of items, such as clippers and furniture can be wiped with alcohol. Wash pets thoroughly if they have been exposed.

To get rid of poison ivy, there are basically two approaches. In both cases, it is safest to completely cover your body by wearing long pants, a long sleeved shirt, plastic gloves over cotton gloves, socks and enclosed shoes or boots. You can pull up the plants if you are careful, but remember, itís essential to get the rootsóvery difficult with well-established plants. Afterwards, put the plants in a plastic bag that you can seal before disposal. Do not burn. The other thing you can do is to use a herbicide, such as Roundup or Ortho Brush-B-Gon, which can kill your other plants if you are not very careful. Use sparingly and never around children, or animals, or on windy days. Be sure to follow directions.

Hereís a few intriguing poison ivy facts from the Poison Ivy Information Center. The first record of poison ivy in North America dates back to the 1600ís, when the plant was named by Captain John Smith. Apparently, 1/4 ounce of urushiol is enough to cause a rash in every single person on earth and 500 people could have an allergic reaction from the amount covering the head of a pin. Who knew that those three little leaves could be so lethal?