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Missouri's Most Irritating Plant

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

of poison ivy, poison oak berries are hairy. The seeds are yellow to cream color and grow on stalks like grapes. Birds also love the seeds.

Controlling Poison Ivy

The most effective way to kill young poison ivy plants is to pull them up by the root or to dig them up. The most effective time to remove poison ivy is from May through July.

Dispose of the dead plants by chopping them into smaller pieces and burying them, or make a brushpile of them. If you pile up the dead poison ivy plants, make sure you tell your friends and family so they know not to burn the pile. Avoid using the poison ivy parts in mulch or compost.

When removing poison ivy vines, sever the main stalk of the vine between 4 and 6 inches above the ground. Apply herbicide to the stump to prevent new growth. Repeat applications may be necessary.

Avoid pulling vines from trees. Sap from the vines can fall on unprotected skin, eyes, or clothing.

Spraying poison ivy allows you to avoid physical contact. Herbicides also have a few risks associated with them. Pre-mixed and ready to spray herbicides containing glycosphate are generally considered safe and effective. These are sold under the brand names of Roundup, Rodeo, Accord and Kleenup. The main problem with these "general use" or"broad-spectrum" herbicides is that they can kill your prize roses along with your poison ivy. When other plants are at risk, you should consider using a plant-specific herbicide.

Removing poison ivy isn't always necessary, especially if the plant grows where it won't bother anyone. Even if poison ivy grows in an area where people could come in contact with it, you could put up a warning sign.

Although poison ivy causes many of us discomfort, the plant has some merits. For example, many birds including warblers, woodpeckers, bluebirds and vireos, eat poison ivy berries. Rabbits, deer, black bear, and muskrats and other animals eat the fruit, stems and leaves.

Thick stands of poison ivy provide cover for small wildlife. The plant's ability to thrive in disturbed habitats also makes it valuable in protecting soil from erosion.

Poison ivy doesn't have to get under our skin. With a little practice and some preventive measures, we can easily identify and avoid it. Knowing its benefits, we can coexist with poison ivy, and even respect it as another fascinating aspect of Missouri's natural beauty.

Ten Questions

  1. Can I get poison ivy from someone's blisters?
    No. The fluid in the blisters was created by your body. It will not spread the rash.
  2. Can I eat poison ivy to develop an immunity to it?
    This method is not recommended. It could cause you to become hypersensitive to poison ivy.
  3. Can I get poison ivy from smoke?
    Yes. Soot and smoke can deliver particles of urushiol that can irritate eyes, nose and throat. Never burn poison ivy.
  4. Will washing clothes spread the poison ivy to other clothes?
    No. Washing clothes with detergent is the best way to remove the poison ivy oil.
  5.  Can you tell the difference between a rash from poison ivy and poison oak?
    No. The rashes are similar, and the treatment is the same.
  6. Will scratching the blisters spread the rash?
    No. Unless urushiol oil remains on your skin, scratching will not cause more of a rash. Scratching does delay healing and increases the likelihood of infection.
  7. Can I get a rash from looking at poison ivy?
    No. Only direct contact with urushiol oil can cause a rash. Remember, though, that urushiol can be carried by smoke from burning poison ivy.
  8. Can I get poison ivy if I never leave the house?
    Yes. Anything or anybody that has come into contact with poison ivy could spread it. Common agents for spreading urushiol are clothing, tools, sporting goods and pets.
  9. Is poison ivy only a problem in summer?
    No. The leaves, stems and roots of poison ivy contain urushiol throughout the year.
  10. Will poison ivy vines strangle trees?
    No. Poison ivy doesn't kill trees, but it can stress them by blocking sunlight, sapping nutrients and adding weight.
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