Dave Anderson's Forest Journal: Poison ivy is a plague you learn to avoid
As a lad, I was constantly plagued with itchy, weeping poison ivy blisters and slathered with Calamine lotion. (Why did it have to be so . pink?) I was briefly hospitalized from a secondary infection inside my fingers. Poison ivy made me suffer.
More important is to learn poison ivy's preferred habitats.
One local mom, Heather Moran, recently passed along her family's natural remedy for poison ivy rash. Ingredients: cosmetic clay, fine-grain sea salt and peppermint essential oil. Make a paste with clay and a pinch of sea salt in a small bowl, and add one or two drops of peppermint. Apply the paste to the rash, and let it dry. Keep re-applying until the rash stops oozing.Urushiol is the plant-specific "oleoresin" contained in poison ivy sap and released when plant tissues are damaged or crushed. It seeps to leaf surfaces in late autumn to form a black lacquer in contact with oxygen. Oleoresins are valued for production of certain varnishes, sticky adhesives and glazes. Urushiol lacquer is used to produce the traditional Chinese, Korean and Japanese lacquer-ware pottery. Poison ivy grows in the temperate regions of Asia. In North America, it grows in the states east of the Rocky Mountains. It is most common in the suburban and exurban regions of New England, as well as Mid-Atlantic and southeast states.
Poison ivy is far more common now than four centuries ago when Europeans first arrived in North America. People opened the forest canopy to sunlight and scraped-away damp, spongy, humus layers of soil.
Each summer, new generations of suburban kids find ways to escape the civilized confines of tidy playgrounds and manicured back yards to unintentionally become acquainted with this humble three-leaved plant. Poison ivy is weedy, opportunistic, tenacious and highly successful. It chemically teaches self-defense and adaptability. Poison ivy mirrors us. It follows us.
"Forest Journal" appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Naturalist Dave Anderson is director of Education and Volunteer Services for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Forest Society Web site: forestsociety.org.
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