Know how to spot poison ivy

There is one vine that outsmarts a lot of people. It’s aggressive, native, and somewhat like you that will make you break out in a nasty rash.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a very common woody vine that is found from the eastern United States to Mexico. It differs from one of the other great nature trail vines, the poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), by the last line of the well-known “vine rhyme”, which says: “Leaves of three, leave it. Leaves of five, stay alive.”

Both vines are native to the United States and play an important role in our ecosystems.

Virginia Creeper is used as a shelter habitat by a wide variety of invertebrates and small vertebrates. Bird nests (including that of the American robin) have been observed in the creeper vine systems. A number of butterflies and moths (including three types of sphinx moth) lay their eggs on creeper leaves and rely on the leaves for both habitat and food for their larvae.

Poison ivy has white, waxy berries that are popular forage for songbirds during fall migration and winter when other food is scarce. Robins, cat birds and grosbeaks especially like the berries. Many birds feed on insects that hide in the tangled vines. Small mammals and deer rummage on the foliage, twigs and berries of the poison ivy.

Knowing the difference between the two vines is a good thing.

Virginia Creeper can be hand pulled, while poison ivy can be seriously dangerous. All parts of the poison ivy, including the roots, are poisonous at any time of the year. The poison in poison ivy is an oil that causes an irritating skin reaction in many people. The reaction can cause an itchy rash with prominent blisters and varies in severity between people. it can even vary from year to year for the same person.

My friend Waylon and I were looking for a tree to put up a deer stall the other day, and almost every ideal tree to lean on had poison ivy on them. Waylon refers to Poison Ivy as his kryptonite, so we had to search a long time to find exactly the right tree.

The poison fire reaction can be reduced by changing clothes immediately and washing exposed skin with soap and water. If you can wash off all of the oil from the exposed skin within five minutes of contact, there will be no reaction. Even water from a flowing stream is an effective detergent. The oil from poison ivy, urushiol, can remain active on clothing and shoes for a year. Therefore, be careful not to expose yourself to the oil again. The oil can also be transferred to pet fur. And be especially careful in the event of a fire. Sometimes part of a vine can still be attached to a burn log and the smoke can provoke a reaction.

The best way to avoid this irritating rash is to identify poison ivy. Both Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy are deciduous and lose their leaves in winter. When they lose their leaves, the vines look very similar. So if you’re pulling vines from trees and bushes, you can be in big trouble if you grab the wrong one.

Fighting one of these vines in the landscape can be a challenge. From a chemical point of view, brush killers with Triclopyr work better than glyphosate (RoundUp). Adding a surfactant (sticker / penetrator) to the herbicides makes spraying a lot more effective. If you catch poison ivy when it blooms in June, herbicides work best. If these vines get tangled in bushes, try gently pulling out part of the plant so as not to break the vine and place the bundle in an open area. Use a quart hand sprayer to spray as many leaves as possible on site. To kill grapevines that have grown high up on a tree, cut the vine near the base of the tree and paint the fresh wound with a full-strength chemical.

So when you see three leaves …

Contact Campbell Vaughn, UGA’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Representative for Richmond County, by emailing [email protected]

Virginia Creeper can be confused with poison ivy.  The ground cover and climbing plant has five leaflets.

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