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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia creeper’

Beautiful fall color of poison ivy

The woods around my house are beginning to pop with beautiful fall color. I’ve noticed that the understory trees, particularly the sassafras and dogwoods, are especially beautiful this year with their shades of yellow, orange and scarlet. The huge Mockernut Hickory tree just off our deck is a brilliant shade of yellow right now. I wish it would last longer but it seems that as soon as it hits its peak of color, the leaves are gone in a matter of a couple of days!

The shrub form of poison ivy has bright red fall color.

The shrub form of poison ivy can grow 3-4 feet tall has bright red fall color.

The other day, I noticed some bright splashes of brilliant red along the roadside. It was very eye catching! Upon closer inspection, I noticed the tell-tale “leaves of three” identifying it as poison ivy. It was a beautiful! I’ve never thought much about the beauty of this plant; like most people, I only think of its bad attributes.

“Leaves of three, let it be” is the common phrase often cited to teach people how to identify poison ivy and warns them to avoid contact with this plant which can cause severe skin rashes to those sensitive to the urushiol oil found in all parts of the plant (except the pollen). I learned this saying as a kid growing up in NJ because our house was surrounded by woods full of poison ivy. I’m actually rather surprised at the number of people I’ve met that can’t identify it. Happily, I seem to be one of those lucky few who aren’t affected by the toxin. I’ve never gotten a case of poison ivy (knock on wood!) even though I’ve often pulled out plants with my bare hands. I guess that’s just tempting fate!

Poison ivy vine growing on a tree. Note the large clusters of white berries and the smooth shiny leaves.

Poison ivy vine growing on a tree. Note the large clusters of white berries and the smooth leaves in groups of three.

Poison ivy can be found in three different growth forms; a low growing ground cover, an upright shrub, and a climbing vine. In gardens, the ground cover form and the shrub form are the most common. As most gardeners find out, poison ivy is difficult to get rid of and Eric spends a lot of time spot treating with Roundup (or a brush killer) to try to keep it at bay in our woodland gardens. Unfortunately, he is VERY allergic to it. Now the plants that he missed are easy to see are brightening our woods with their dazzling scarlet foliage.

It seems such a shame that these plants are so undesirable and cause so much discomfort to so many people when they add such beauty to the fall landscape!

Turnabout is fair play; sometimes poison ivy gets a rash! Leaf galls on poison ivy.

Turnabout is fair play; sometimes poison ivy gets a rash! Leaf galls on poison ivy.

It can be a never-ending battle to keep poison ivy out of the garden because the seeds are carried in from far and wide by birds that find the white berries a tasty treat in the fall. Spraying or grubbing them out is the most effective way. If you pull or dig them out, be sure to wear disposable latex or rubber gloves and avoid touching any part of your body until you carefully remove the gloves. To make matters worse, even the dead leaves and stems can cause an allergic reaction!

My mother-in-law taught me to use a bread bag as a glove, pull the plant up by the roots, and then pull the bag down over the plant sealing it and its rash producing oils inside the bag – ingenious if you only have one or two plants to get rid of!

Aerial roots on a poison ivy vine

Aerial roots on a poison ivy vine

The vining form is often found climbing high into trees. These vines are covered with fine adventitious roots that secure the vine to the tree it is growing on. Another poison ivy saying, “Hairy vine, no friend of mine”, makes reference to these aerial roots that cover the vine like hair. Poison ivy vines also contain urushiol and can cause an allergic reaction if handled.

Virginia creeper has leaflets in groups of five.

Virginia creeper has leaflets in groups of 5.

Another vine which is often confused with poison ivy is Virginia creeper. It’s usually easy to distinguish from poison ivy because it has leaflets in groups of five rather than three and the leaf margins are coarsely toothed.

Virginia creeper vine showing the tendrils that anchor the vine to the tree.

Virginia creeper vine showing the tendrils that anchor the vine to the tree.

The vines of Virginia creeper are smooth and attach to the tree by means of branched tendrils tipped with adhesive pads rather than aerial roots. This is an easy way to differentiate between the two if you can’t see the foliage. Like poison ivy, it grows high into trees and has beautiful red foliage in the fall. There is a lovely Virginia creeper growing up one of the pines in our yard and right now the leaves are a flaming red that is just as striking as the poison ivy.

For now, I plan on enjoying the beautiful red foliage of our poison ivy from afar –

there will be plenty of time to work on eradication in the spring.

Until next time –

Happy Gardening!

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