An unlikely city foe: Poison ivy swamps the Bronx | The Riverdale Press
BY KIRSTYN BRENDLEN
The ubiquitous three leaves of poison ivy are becoming increasingly common in New York.
Various news outlets have highlighted the invasive weed overgrowth in Manhattan and Queens. But now the itchy plant has found its way into the Bronx.
Sura Jeselsohn, a local nature lover and occasional Riverdale Press columnist, sees poison ivy everywhere – in Riverdale Park, on the edges of busy pedestrian streets like West 232nd Street, and in parks and local churches.
“Not everything in the natural world is benign,” she said. “In particular there is the problem of the poison ivy. It’s a lovely plant. It’s green, shiny, it climbs trees. “
Despite its “gorgeous” appearance, poison ivy has extremely unpleasant effects on those who inadvertently touch it.
The leaves and stems contain urushiol, a colorless oil that causes an itchy, blistered rash on contact with the skin.
According to the American Skin Association, nearly 85 percent of adults are allergic to the plant, while up to 15 percent are severely allergic and may need medical attention. An estimated 50 million Americans come into contact with poison ivy each year.
Even a person’s clothes that brush against the plant can spread the irritant if not washed immediately. And, said Jeselsohn, if your beloved dog walks through a patch and you don’t know, you’re probably just scratching the path to discomfort.
It’s a problem people aren’t even aware of. But the city park department is, said Jeselsohn. You just haven’t done much about it.
“If you call Parks, you get this song and dance it naturally,” she said. “Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s beneficial.”
Debbi Dolan – a member of the Van Cortlandt Park Nature Group and an expert on local plant life – said that in Vannie at least, not much effort is being made to eradicate the vine.
“It’s a native plant that provides berries to wildlife and also helps spread them,” Dolan said. “It also provides shelter for small animals, and they use the vine for climbing.”
There is too much, however, and if that’s the case with poison ivy, Dolan blames climate change.
“Scientists conclude that rising temperatures and rising carbon dioxide levels contribute to overgrowth,” she said. “The poison ivy responds by getting bigger and stronger. The urushiol that is causing the rash keeps getting stronger. “
Mild winters and warmer, wetter summers have reportedly made poison ivy grow faster and bigger. And while some small animals and birds may depend on it as a source of food, the same animals are also a major cause of their spread as they eat the plants and scatter seeds.
There are two ways that poison ivy can be removed – physically, by pulling the plant up by the root. Or chemically by spraying pesticides.
“The public has developed an aversion to the word ‘pesticide’, but parks are telling everyone they have to use pesticides because they don’t have enough manpower to cope with this rampant vegetation,” Jeselsohn said.
However, removing the plant by hand is more difficult. On a recent trip down a wooded back street in Riverdale, Jeselsohn said she dressed “like an astronaut” to avoid exposure to the poison ivy she was removing.
For smaller plants, Jeselsohn recommends using a plastic bag, as supplied in the newspaper, and wrapping it around your hand before pulling up the plant. Once removed, use the bag to tie the plant.
Afterward, Jeselsohn says she wash her skin with dish soap, which breaks down the oils that cause irritation if any of it lands on her skin. That could at least prevent the dreaded rash.
Still, Jeselsohn is still figuring out why she and other concerned nature lovers like her are entrusted with such a chaotic job. Jeselsohn’s many calls to 311 have largely gone unnoticed.
“Parks is overwhelmed,” she said of the city agency. “Although I get annoyed with them sometimes, I don’t know whether they have the budget or the manpower. I think they are charged with doing more than they can reasonably achieve. “
Even so, someone has to take care of the problem, and it is too big and too dangerous for people to face, said Jeselsohn. And the parking department must at least respond to calls that fall within their area of responsibility.
“If you have a common problem and neglect it when told,” she said, “you will eventually be part of the problem.”