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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Knowing the facts about poison ivy helps you avoid it

Poison ivy

Living in north Texas, you should be acquainted with poison ivy and poison oak – and what to do if you happen to run across them. So here’s how to avoid them. And what to do if it’s too late.

First, know that most folks will feel refreshed after an encounter with nature. But a few will feel itchy afterwards, having encountered poison ivy or oak. Knowing how it looks is the first step, because many people mistake the common, native vine Virginia Creeper for poison ivy. Big mistake!  The old adage “leaves of three- let it be” is valid. The leaves on poison ivy are fairly shiny. Also, Virginia Creeper has five leaves, not three.

Five species of similar rash-inducing plants are found in North America: two species of poison ivy, two species of poison oak and poison sumac. All of which contain the same essential oil that irritates skin, although some individuals (for some unknown reason) are affected only mildly or not at all. Poison oak is relatively rare, and poison sumac is only found in wetlands, so I’ll concentrate on regular old poison ivy.

Urushiol is the offending chemical’s name, and it’s found in all parts of a plant; leaves, stems, berries etc. Plants spread their urushiol if they are cut, cruised, rubbed, or opened up in any way, even the process of burning it.

Skin can be rid of urushiol immediately after exposure.  Wash the area with lots of water without soap. Soap has no affect on urushiol. Scratching it is a no-no, since scratching can easily spread the itching to other parts of your body, and may cause disfiguring infection.

You could also swab the area with rubbing alcohol, which can render it harmless even as long as four hours after exposure. Either way, don‘t scrub the skin energetically or use very hot water.

Several commercial products will do the same things (but they’re no better than the ones mentioned). Also, many folk remedies exist, which have varying success.


OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.

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