declare victory until the war is won; the final battle, over. I've been
fighting a personal battle with the poison ivy in my backyard for the last
5 years, almost as long as the war on terrorism. Much like that war, I had
no idea I was in the war for the first few years. I was losing battles I had
no idea I was engaged in. I'd go to work after a weekend of gardening and barbequing
in my backyard, and by Tuesday I'd feel tired and beaten, like I had
gotten very old all of a sudden. My face was red and warm. I felt hot and
itchy and tired.
figured it was the sun and the smoke of the barbeque. It was that but what
it mainly was, was the poison. The poison that caused the low-grade fever
and then the rash -- all over my arm or above the eyes. Poison Ivy.
Gate to Lou's backyard. So pretty. Where's the
poison ivy? (look below for answer)
There are lots of misconceptions about poison ivy that you can clear up by
doing a quick internet search. For example, it's not called poison ivy
because the rash seems to crawl up different parts of your body like an
ivy vine -- it just takes two days generally for your skin to react to the
poisonous oil that you get from brushing against the ivy. If you get it on
your hands and then itch your ass, you'll have a poison ivy reaction on
your ass. (Luckily I've never had a poison ivy reaction on my ass.)
The oil wears away the first day or so -- during that time you could
conceivably give the poison ivy to someone else if the oil is on your
hands or another part of your body that someone rubs up against. If the
family cat is trespassing through poison ivy bushes and then cuddling up
to your newborn, don't be surprised if your newborn develops a rash.
Where's the poison ivy? -- Click on
picture to find.
Or not, because the odd thing about poison ivy is that your resistance to
it decreases the more you come in contact with it. So if you felt fearless
as a youngster -- able to truffle through forests with nary a case, and
now as an adult you constantly seem to be coming down with a rash after
similar jaunts, you know the reason why. It's also been said that global
warming will cause an increase in poison ivy, as warmer temperatures
provide a hot bed for it. I read that in a sidebar to a news story two
years ago -- major effects of global warming: melting of ice caps, rise in
sea levels, destruction of major low-lying cities inhabited by millions of
people, increase in killer diseases, destruction of farm lands and crops
through drought, and an increase in poison ivy. It appeared to me the
author of that article was perhaps in the midst of his own personal war
with poison ivy.
I knew I had poison ivy in my yard, I just
didn't know where. I looked up pictures of it on the internet, printed
out color copies and then went hunting about comparing every leaf
structure to the pictures. But damn if 50 percent of the leaf types in
my backyard were triangular and pointy, and come in groups of three.
None of it looked like ivy though. I read that it turns red in the fall. I waited
'til the fall. Everything turned red. I read that you can buy Poison
Ivy spray to kill it.
I bought Poison Ivy spray. I sprayed it on a
bunch of different types of leaves -- everything I sprayed it on died. The
can said "This will kill anything you spray it on". My litmus test failed.
Poison Ivy Is Relentless
And it kept coming after me, beating me up in
battles; it was relentless and it wasn't going away. Then my one-year-old son came down with a bad
case of it, that the pediatrician swore wasn't poison ivy (what the heck
does he know? How many kids come in with poison ivy rashes?). I went back
to the internet and did a precise examination of poison ivy pictures and
the written descriptions that accompanied them. Equipped with the clearest
and most definitive pictures I could find, I went back to my backyard,
determined to find it.
And I found it. It was
simply ALL OVER THE FENCE on the left side of the property, including the
gate that led one into the backyard! The leaves were bigger than I thought
they'd be -- that's what caused me to overlook it initially.
There's the poison ivy -- EVERYWHERE
(click to enlarge)
Poison ivy is a big broad shiny pointy leaf,
with three leaves to a stem, that grows off a fury vine. The ivy can
disguise itself as leaves to a great big bush -- as mine was doing -- it
will grow over the bush and have its leaves cover, obfuscate, and
impersonate the bush's leaves.
Poison ivy is deceptive. It's vine is fury --
making it look very neat and cute. It is so cute, that in the past I had
remembered pulling cords of the vine and playing with it -- wrapping it
around my neck. My internet research revealed to me that the vine and its
roots are just as poisonous as the leaves. Also, burning poison ivy
releases fumes that are especially poisonous -- even lethal. Poison
ivy, when smoked, can put those who breath its fumes into the hospital or
even kill them. So
don't throw poison ivy leaves into the fire when toasting
marshmallows. We had done that. Many times.
I had seen the enemy, and he was mine. They
said I should hire professionals. They said I should hire Mexicans. I said
'no'. This was my private war. The tools of war were a package of
plastic disposable gloves, one pair for each of the many battles that lay
ahead, an old pair of sneakers that would remain outside, long sleeved
shirt and pants that would go into the wash as soon as each battle closed.
LouV is well padded and covered, and
surrounded by poison ivy. The ivy got to him at the seams between
gloves and shirt.
And the bloody battles began. The poison ivy
struck back at every turn. It would find the separation between my long
sleeved shirt and rubber gloves and get me there. Two days after every
weekend battle came the tiredness, the low-grade fever, the itch above the
eyes, the feeling of being an old man, even though I had made sure not to
brush against it nor rub my eyes. Even being in close proximity to the ivy
will cause an outbreak. On the internet you'll
find that many people who have been struck by poison ivy to the point of
being hospitalized, refuse to go into their backyards anymore.
But for each battle, the poison ivy felt the
pain -- first it lost all of its leaves, torn down, horded into 20 or so
large 10 gallon hefty bags. Then its vine, ripped up piece by piece off
the fence. It hung on with its filament fibers clutching onto the wood it
had embedding itself into. The filaments were left for a cleanup battle
later on. Even the bushes and small trees that the ivy had inundated were
completely removed -- dug up from the roots.
The final battles focused on completely
eradicating the poison ivy roots -- first the major arteries, pulled from
the ground. Later, the thin fibers of roots that infest the ground in the
15 foot by 3 foot area where the poison ivy grew were meticulously
This proved to be the trickiest part --
digging up the entire area, section by section, and coursing through the
dirt picking out foot fiber after root fiber, placing the fibers into a
large garbage bag, and then putting the filtered dirt back.
Back to the fence -- 5 months
after the ivy was pulled from it, leaving its tentacles -- a paint scraper
was applied to scrape the tentacles off. By that time the tentacles had
dried and lost their grip. A new coat of stain and shellac was then
applied to the fence to cover any leftover tentacles that were missed.
Section of backyard fence before the
war. Lou used to comment that the leaves on this big bush looked so
pretty. It was actually poison ivy that had grown over a bush, trees
and the fence. (Click to enlarge.)
Same section of backyard fence after
numerous battles. Notice the furry tentacles of the poison ivy left on
the fence. This still needed to be scraped off with paint scraper,
after allowing several weeks to dry out. (Click to enlarge.)
Finally, poison ivy killer spray was
applied to the dirt
all along where the roots took hold, at the base of the fence. This was, in
essence, nuking the area. What remains now for me to do is to be ever vigilant that no
vines or anything that looks like a vine rises from that area. And to make
sure it doesn't come up elsewhere. I've developed an innate ability to spot
poison ivy from 40 paces. Something that might be able to be parlayed to a
side job with the coming of global warming.
The poison ivy roots are just as poisonous as
the leaves. And they're a bitch to get off. Best bet is to let them dry up
for a month, and then tackle with paint scraper and screwdriver.
Hairy tentacles of poison ivy roots are not
only on fence, they were all over the ground, in an expansive root system
an inch below the surface and spreading out for many feet.
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I have been plagued with poison ivy every since I
purchased my home 10 years ago. My first breakout was the worst because I
was naive to poison ivy so therefore I ended up on steroids & I was so
tired! It is extremely frustrating to have poison ivy growing in your yard
in which you have to mow and maintain. After many breakouts, I have
learned to wear long shirts and pants even in the highest of temps because
it sure beats itchy like crazy! Thanks for the article!
This article was extremely helpful!!! I moved to New
Jersey this past August and had never encountered poison ivy before. I was
outside for 1 day cleaning up and pulling weeds, etc.. Two days later I
started to see a red patch of skin that developed into blisters then the
annoying never ending itching. Within a couple of days it appeared at
various places on my body (areas you would absolutely NOT want it)! It was
on my face, arms, legs, stomach...I put Cortisone on it for a couple of
days with NO relief. I finally wound up in the Emergency room where I was
diagnosed with "Contact Dermatitis" from none other than Poison Ivy. It
was so bad that they had to give me an injection of steroids and then I
was on Prednisone for 10 days and that was awful! I thought I was being
really cautious since then.
I printed out pictures as well off the internet and
searched my yard. Two days ago I was doing yard work and there was an
enormous vine that had taken over the back corner of the yard. I had no
idea it was poison ivy or that it could grow into such a mass. Needless to
say I now have a poison ivy rash on my face and neck.
What helped me the most from this article is the
information on the hairy stems. I had never seen this before and it was
all over the tree that the vine was wrapped around. So I knew immediately
it was poison ivy. I now know what I need to do to get rid of it. (Not
looking forward to that!) Thanks for your post!!
-- Michelle Francoeur
This is a great article. I'm curious if you've
experienced any return of the menace? I'm on my second year in a new home,
and my battle against poison ivy in the border around my patio. It
infiltrated daylily plants; I dug those up and the poison ivy roots led me
back to the patio -- they're growing out from under the concrete!
Any suggestions how to deal with this situation? I dug
up all I could and left root stumps about 4-5 inches long (there were 5
that I found); plan to douse them with roundup every week all summer. Do
you think that will work? Thanks so much for sharing your story and for
This article is very informative and I welcome it. Like
the author I am fighting a war with the poison ivy and I have developed an
allergy to the plant. Not only does it cause itching, it also causes
rashes, and breathlessness. After reading this article I have concluded
that my husband is also experiencing episodes of allergic reaction -- for
a few weeks now he's started feeling weak and unwell after gardening close
to the plant.
My next-door neighbour's yard is overrun by the poison
ivy and now my garden fence is being infiltrated by it. Last year (2010) I
tried diesel but now the poison ivy has returned with a vengance. I'll be
trying some bleach.
What a great story. At age 55 I got hit by poison ivy
(for the first time) growing up the front of my brick house and spreading
out. I was caught by surprise like you. You didn't mention how long it
takes to recover from this. I will spare no expense on Roundup to nuke it
incessantly. Unbelievable how poisonous something so innocent looking can
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Great article on
Poison Ivy. Although I don't think I have any on my property
it's great to get a little heads up info & keep my eyes open. I caught
what I think was
poison sumac a couple years ago & ever since I'm leery of
potentially poisonous vines.