Irritating to Humans but Good for Wildlife

Poison ivy is a woody shrub or vine with hairy-looking aerial roots. It grows to 10 feet or more, climbing high on trees, walls and fences or trails along the ground. All parts of poison ivy, including the roots, are poisonous at all times of the year.

The toxin in poison ivy is an oil which causes an irritating skin reaction on many people. The reaction, an itchy rash with clear blisters, is variable in severity among people, and can vary from year to year on the same individual.

The poison ivy reaction can be reduced if you change clothing immediately and wash the exposed skin with soap and water. if you can wash all the oil off exposed skin within five minutes of contact, no reaction will occur. Even water from a running stream is an effective cleanser. The oil from poison ivy can remain active on clothing and footwear as long as a year so be careful not to expose yourself to the oil again. The oil can also be transmitted on pet fur and in the smoke of burning poison ivy.

You can use various products such as MultiShield applied prior to anticipated exposure or Tecnu Skin Cleanser to cleanse exposed skin. However, the best way to avoid the irritating rash is being able to identify poison ivy.

Leave Some for the Birds

Poison ivy is a nuisance to people, but it provides considerable wildlife value.

The white, waxy berries are a popular food for songbirds during fall migration and in winter when other foods are scarce. Robins, catbirds and grosbeaks especially like the berries. Many birds feed on insects hiding in the tangled vines. Small mammals and deer browse on the poison ivy foliage, twigs and berries. If you can leave thickets or swags of this plant in remote areas on your property, your wildlife will appreciate it.


Poison ivy control can be done at any time of the year, but is best achieved May through July while the plants are flowering. Poison ivy should be accurately identified before you attempt any control measures. Spraying is recommended over burning because poison ivy oil vaporizes when hot, carries in smoke and can cause a severe rash.

Poison ivy foliage within reach can be sprayed with glyphosate (sold under the trade names Roundup, Kleenup and others) according to label directions. When using this or any herbicide, always read and follow label directions carefully. Take care to avoid other plants and do not spray so heavily the herbicide drips off the leaves. Glyphosate is a nonselective herbicide and will kill any vegetation it contacts.

To kill poison ivy that climbs high into trees, cut the vine off 6 inches above ground level. Treat the stump with glyphosate (according to label directions) immediately after cutting to kill the roots and prevent sprouting. If re-sprouting does occur, treat the leaves with glyphosate.

Poison ivy can be very persistent, so you may have to spray the vines two or more times for complete control. Poison ivy can spread along fence or hedge rows and under trees by birds dispersing the seeds. Treating young seedlings with glyphosate will kill them and limit the spread of poison ivy.

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