Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County
444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, Nebraska. Phone: 402-441-7180. University of Nebraska-Lincoln



"Leaves of Three, Leave it Be!" - Poison Ivy

Poison IvyIf you've ever had an unfortunate experience with Poison ivy, you learn very quickly how to avoid it!

Poison ivy grows along stream bank, in woodlands, and fencerows. Knowing how to identify and control poison ivy is your best defense.

Poison ivy has a compound leaf consisting of three leaflets. The leaflets are two to four inches long, dull or glossy green with pointed tips. The middle leaflet is usually a bit bigger than the two side leaflets. The margins of the leaflets can be toothed, lobed, or even smooth. The leaves are positioned alternately on the stems. Blossoms appear in late spring, white berries in late summer. Poison ivy can be confused for other plants in the woodlands.

All parts of the plant are poisonous at all times of the year - including the roots. And, even the dead leaves in winter!

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 85 percent of people have an allergic reaction to Poison ivy. It may take several exposures to Poison ivy to trigger an allergic reaction and each time you have a reaction it might be different - even in the same year! The oily toxin in Poison ivy is transmitted when the plant is injured - a break or just a nibble from an insect. Because the sticky, oily toxin is easily transmitted, there are indirect ways to contact it, for instance, from the fur of the family pet, garden tools, garden gloves, clothing, golf balls or other objects that have come in contact with an injured plant. The oily toxin can remain active for several months to a year on objects.

If you know you've been exposed to poison ivy, change clothing immediately and wash the exposed skin with soap and cool water. A visible reaction, redness and swelling may be apparent within 12 to 24 hours. Contact your family physician or pharmacist for recommendations for effective non-prescription medication.

Be careful not to expose yourself to any smoke of burning poison ivy; even wood with a poison ivy vine attached. to it. Take extreme caution to avoid inhaling smoke or contact smoke with skin or clothing - you can contract a rash just from this exposure.

Did you know Poison ivy is also beneficial? Poison ivy might cause humans headaches, but the berries are a popular food for songbirds including Robins. Birds feed on insects hiding in the vines. Other wildlife like deer feed on the plants.


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