Poison Ivy and Weed Identification – Student Post by Indigo
Nothing seems quite as serene as taking a stroll down the back roads of Upstate New York, especially to a local like myself. The Summer is in full swing – the sun seems brighter, birds and insects sing their promiscuous songs, and the foliage resembles a lush sea of green. This is about as peaceful as life gets out here on the Lansing-Groton town line. I took a walk down the street the other day to find specimens for our plant-identification assignment, as the roadside bordering the woods is cluttered with weeds of various kinds. There are so many species; one tends to get lost in the mix of it all. After a few minutes of rummaging, I find some flowering ones, then pick them to be pressed and identified back at home. I notice and recognize a few varieties in the ditch I’m in, but little did I know I had missed one of particular importance. I’d once gotten Poison Ivy years ago in my childhood – you think I would’ve learned from the first experience. Apparently not.
Did you know that Poison Ivy can take anywhere from a few hours, to 2-3 weeks for a reaction to occur? I found this out after a couple of days when I noticed blistering occurring on my forearm. Poison Ivy is a hardy, native plant of New York, along with many other regions of the United States. It can take the form of a ground creeper, climbing vine, and even appear in a shrub-like form. The active chemical “Urushiol” is the naturally occurring oil in all parts of the plant, which causes the infamous allergic reactions we know all too well. When the oil contacts the skin, it causes an oozing, itchy, weeping, blistering rash that can spread and appear days after initial contact. The blisters themselves cannot spread the reaction, busting the myth that your parents once told you as a child. Only the Urushiol oil can spread the reaction, which is why it is vital to wash your hands and body in cold water immediately after contact/reactions.
It is important to wash all clothing worn during contact, as residues can remain on them and even your pet’s fur, less you want to spread and repeatedly contract allergic reactions. Cold water is recommended, as it helps close your pores, in order to deter the Urushiol from worsening its effects by getting deeper into your skin. For minor reactions, calamine and caladryl lotions are recommended to help with itching and oozing of blisters. Other home treatments include a 1:3 tsp. ratio of water to baking soda as a rubbing paste, a teaspoon of apple cider to help draw out the Urushiol, witch hazel, and much more. However, it is of course always advised for a victim of Poison Ivy to first consult a doctor for treatment in any situation of adverse reactions. The rash can take anywhere from 10 days to 2 or 3 weeks to run its course, but all cases vary and can sometimes take longer or shorter to heal. As I sit here shaking my head for overlooking something so preventable,
I hope that the spreading has stopped, considering both my arms, chest, and left facial cheek have been affected. So the next time you or your loved ones are out and about in a forest, roadside adventure, or you happen to be doing your plant identification homework, please know your Poison Ivy plant ID (poison sumac & oak too!), so you don’t end up looking like a fried egg like me! Remember, as big and intelligent as we are compared to the size of many plants, we are still at mercy of mother nature – oh, and our own awareness too.