2017-07-11 / Front Page

Coping with poison ivy

by Jenna Nees
Purdue Extension, Putnam County

One of the poisonous hazards that homeowners often deal with this time of year is poison ivy. Some individuals are lucky and never seem to get it, but others can be 10 feet away from it and still end up with it.

The best way to avoid the irritation is by learning how to identify poison ivy. There are two different forms of poison ivy found in Indiana. They include a low-growing shrub and a climbing vine. Aerial rootlets allow the vine to attach to other items including your fence, trees, house, or other tall items around your property. Poison ivy leaves are compound with three leaflets attached to the petiole. The leaves have smooth, scalloped, or irregular toothed margins. Poison ivy may have leaves that appear to be oily and contain greenish-white berries that grow in clusters.

There are a number of vining plants which poison ivy is often confused with. Some of those common plants include fragrant sumac and Virginia creeper. Fragrant sumac does have three leaflets but is different from poison ivy. The main difference is that the fruit and leaves of fragrant sumac will be hairy. Virginia creeper on the other hand has five leaflets. Neither, fragrant sumac or Virginia creeper contains a toxic substance that irritates the skin like found in poison ivy.

Once you identify any poison ivy on your property, it is time to control it. To control it, you can cut the plant back to the ground or dig it up. When digging it out, try to get every part of the root system since any part that is left will allow the plant to sprout. When doing either of those methods, you stand a chance of coming in contact with the poison ivy and end up with the irritation. Do not burn it, because the smoke it produces can cause irritation.

Using herbicides to control poison ivy is the method most homeowners gravitate towards. When applying herbicide, cut a small segment of the poison ivy and apply the herbicide directly to the open wound. When choosing a herbicide, look for one that contains the active ingredients of either amino triazole, glyphosate, or dicamba. Make sure before using any herbicide, you pay close attention to the label. You should follow all directions on the label including those about how to dress when handling the herbicide, application method, and all safety instructions.

If you do end up with poison ivy, you can try to prevent the irritation by applying some alcohol on the point of contact. Some of the irritation can be relieved by washing with strong alkali soap. If you encounter someone burning poison ivy that causes you irritation, do not try to relieve the irritation by using alcohol; instead, seek the advice of a medical professional.

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