Why Lemony?
(the “About Me” page)

July 18, 2006

Obsessed with danger


This spring, I noticed a lot of really healthy-looking poison ivy growing in the big park near our house. Not just in the woods, but everywhere that the woods met the grassy areas, there were poison ivy plants with really big, shiny, very green leaves. In fact, they seemed like the most vigorous things out there. I was alarmed by this and very curious. Alarmed because Georgia and Billy both got poison ivy rashes last summer that needed multiple medications and caused much misery; curious because it really did seem like there were many more poison ivy plants than last year and because the leaves looked a lot bigger than I had seen before. I wondered, though, if I just hadn't noticed them in previous years because I have to admit that after Georgia had her rash, I became somewhat obsessed with looking for it whenever we came near any leafy areas in parks or woods. I got pretty good at identifying it and when I found some I would just stare at it, amazed that a pretty little plant could cause so many problems just by touching it! And when your kids are little and roll around like pinballs all over the place with little regard for plants they might be touching that might hurt them, it tends to make one a bit jumpy and, shall we say, focused? on any lurking poisons around them. I find poison ivy kind of hypnotic in an evil but thrilling way. It's one of those situations where I feel like if I just pay attention enough and get really good at plant identification, I will be able to save countless innocents that would otherwise fall prey to it. And I'm not willing to give up the woods or the park, just because there are dangerous things in it.

So I was just about to ask the Nature Center staff if they had noticed the unusual health of the local poison ivy when I read this article in Science News (6/3/06, vol. 169, p. 339) about an experiment conducted on a forest in Woods Hole, Mass. where carbon dioxide was piped over a section of forest to mimic projected future conditions of the air quality. They found that vines, especially poison ivy, grew twice as fast as their normal rate in the increased carbon dioxide environment and if that wasn't enough, the fast-growing poison ivy developed more of the kind of oils that cause allergic rashes than regular poison ivy. So not only will there be more poison ivy in our future, the way things are going environmentally, but it will hurt you more! Evil evil evil! The only good thing about poison ivy, in my mind, it that white-tailed deer (which is the Illinois state animal) will EAT it! Isn't that crazy, that something so poisonous to human skin can be eaten by a deer with no problem whatsoever? I'm starting to like deer quite a bit about now. My heroes.

But back to my point. And this is it. Is there a marked increase in carbon dioxide levels already in my neighborhood? In the experiment, they put 50% more carbon dioxide on their experimental forest patch than is normally found in the atmosphere. Is the air here in Crystal Lake Park (across the street from my house) really bad? Or am I just noticing more poison ivy because I've been looking for it and learned what it looks like? Hmmm...

Here's a little poison ivy tutorial, a little shrine to my obsession:


Here it is, in it's many disguises, trying to look like a harmless plant:

It can be a little shrub

It can be a vine

It can even be so big that it's tree-like

Here are some plants that look like poison ivy, but aren't, next to the real thing, so you can compare and contrast:


Poison ivy

Fragrant sumac

Poison ivy

Some sort of maple

Poison ivy (this is the only one I'm not completely sure about, but I wasn't going to touch it to find out!)

Some plant I don't know, except that it isn't poison ivy

Poison ivy

All these pictures were taken on a walk between my house and the woods, through the park. Here you can see the proximity of these noxious plants to the path by the playground and to my sweet baby on said path:


Grrrr poison ivy! I growl at you!

Posted by Bahiyyih at July 18, 2006 03:46 PM

This is one rocking awesome post. Poison ivy can be a bit tricky to identify, because the standard rules people tell you don't always apply. The alternating pictures made me laugh so hard... well, at least on the inside.

Posted by: Nathan at July 20, 2006 11:47 PM

Yeah, that was really funny. I like "some plant I don't know". You're funny! We are so excited to see you this weekend! Love, Layli

Posted by: layli at July 21, 2006 08:31 AM

Thanks dear people! So glad to know you are out there. I had so much fun preparing this.

Posted by: Bahiyyih at July 21, 2006 08:36 AM

Dear Bahiyyih - great post! I think the "some plant I don't know" might be a little hickory tree. Also, the homeopathic remedy rhus toxicodendron works to stop the itching of the poison ivy/poison oak rash (as it is sometimes called in Texas), allowing it to heal. More evil facts about poison ivy: a person (like me) can be non-sensitive to it for years and then become sensitive to it as an adult. Once the sensitivity is developed, it apparently never goes away. As a child I cleared the stuff from my grandmother's garden with impunity, but as an adult in my OWN garden had to wear two layers of clothes that I then peeled off inside out and washed in lots of hot water and detergent to avoid touching the stuff. Other notes from my experience: even the roots have the oil (tried to dig it up in the winter while dormant), and the oils can be transferred THROUGH your clothes or to your innards by being exposed to or breathing smoke if you burn the plants (the rash is bad anywhere, but there are some places you REALLY don't want it!).

Sorry this is long - just don't get me started on the evils of fire ants!

Love, Sherri

Posted by: Sherri at July 21, 2006 10:37 AM

Oh man! Thanks for all this great information on poison ivy, Bahiyyih and Sherri! I'm feeling itchy just from looking at the pictures! :-) I'll have to do a sweep of our yard later to see if we're safe. There are some suspicious looking areas out there that I've been avoiding lately.

Posted by: Heather at July 22, 2006 10:34 AM