Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Pretty poison

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Poison Ivy Turning Yellow 2205

Poison ivy, that is, Toxicodendron radicans. This protean plant can grow as a forb, a shrub, or, as you see in this photograph, a climbing vine. Regardless of its form, poison ivy is a reliable source not only of skin irritation but also of colorful fall foliage. The date was November 18, and the location US 183 in the town of Cedar Park, a large suburb immediately north of Austin.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2013 at 6:03 AM

15 Responses

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  1. Poison ivy !


    December 19, 2013 at 6:10 AM

  2. I’ve heard your skin can be irritated not just by touching it, but simply passing by. I didn’t realize it could climb a tree in the form of a vine.


    December 19, 2013 at 6:14 AM

    • I, too, have read that people can be affected just by passing close, but I don’t know if that’s true. The statement about climbing is real enough, as this picture confirms. Even more insidious is that the lower portion of the vine can lose all its leaves and blend in with the tree trunk it’s on, so that an unwary person might lean on or touch the vine and be affected. At


      you can see a picture of two mature, leafless poison ivy vines.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2013 at 7:53 AM

  3. I like the contrast and vertical structure of the trees in your photo.

    I had often wondered about the plant. I wasn’t sure if the ivy and the shrub forms were indeed the same plant. Thank you for cluing me in, Steve! I am also surprised by the coloration too. Many of the fall photos I see show the leaves in yellows and golds, yet my specimens have been in golds and RED! Perhaps it is due to how much sunlight it receives?

    So pretty to look at, but dreadful if touched!


    December 19, 2013 at 7:00 AM

    • I’m glad you appreciate the verticality, Lynda (even if the WordPress editor doesn’t recognize the existence of the word verticality). Below the portion of the vines shown here were some leaflets that had added a little red to their predominant yellow. In fact by mentioning red you anticipate me, as tomorrow’s photo will make clear. Stay tuned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2013 at 8:03 AM

  4. Ah Steve!!! Beautiful Poison Ivy! I have a love/hate relationship with this gorgeous plant that is so useful to wildllife! I have many, many photographs of this plant that gives me a very bad rash, even if it is my *husband* that gets into it rather than me – I’ve got to wash his jeans with great care – otherwise, bad news for me! One of these days it will be the topic in one of my blogs. Thanks for sharing the beauty of Austin!

    Brenda Jones

    December 19, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    • I’m sorry that you’ve experienced the undesirable kind of red from poison ivy. Similar to what you say about your husband’s clothing, I’ve read that some people get affected by touching their pets after the pets have come in contact with poison ivy. I’ve never gotten a rash, even though I’ve accidentally touched lightly against one of these plants on several occasions (an unwanted fringe “benefit” of getting close to take pictures). That’s led me to think that maybe I’m among the fortunate minority that doesn’t get a reaction, but I don’t push my luck, and I try to avoid all contact—unlike the many animals that, as you point out, make use of the plant with impunity

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2013 at 11:35 AM

  5. I am very fortunate to not have any episodes of poison ivy rashes.

    Jim in IA

    December 19, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    • That makes two of us. Let’s hope there are many others and that we all keep our membership in that club.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2013 at 1:05 PM

  6. I’m as taken by the tree bark as by the leaves – they complement one another beautifully. This is about the third of these foliage photos that I’ve found absolutely compelling. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about them – you seem to have somehow captured the very life of the plants.

    As for that dreaded poison ivy, I can attest that even oils left on empty clay flower pots can set off a reaction. It took me a while to figure out what the problem was, but eventually I realized the vine twining through the fence was more than just pretty.


    December 19, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    • Thanks for saying I’ve captured the life of these plants—something I aspire to do. And yes, the rough bark here is enticing (though I can’t resist saying that the bark isn’t worse than the “bite” of the poison ivy). This has been a good season for foliage, first here, then in Oklahoma and Arkansas, then back here; just yesterday I found some flameleaf sumac that still had colorful leaves. That’s a benign sumac, unlike the toxic one shown here and the one twining through your fence and leaving oils on empty clay pots. I’ve read that even a 200-year-old dried specimen in a botanical collection caused a reaction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2013 at 9:02 PM

  7. It sure does have a lovely fall color! I’ve spent many a day enjoying the gifts of poison ivy. But luckily not horribly. I can usually wash it off before getting affected. The worst thing would be during controlled burns, you don’t want to breathe it, as it can cause lungs a huge amount of damage with death a possibility to someone that has a bad reaction. Yes, vine/shrub are the same. The plant just grows in its best interest, sometimes shrubby sometimes viney. I’ve written about its charms…http://midwesternplants.org/tag/toxicodendron-radicans/

    Midwestern Plant Girl

    December 20, 2013 at 6:16 AM

    • Yes, poison ivy is one of the reliable sources of autumn color in central Texas, which doesn’t have large-scale fall foliage of the kind I grew up with in New York. In the follow-up post this morning I showed how red the leaves can sometimes be at this time of year.

      Like you, I’m fortunate never to have been affected by poison ivy, but I pity the people shown in the photographs in the Skin Rash Hall of Fame at poison-ivy.org. I’d read about the effect on susceptible people who breathe in the active ingredient when poison ivy gets burned—even, as you noted, the possibility of dying.

      In any case, I like the way you phrased it: “The plant just grows in its best interest.” Too bad that’s usually not ours.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2013 at 7:24 AM

  8. […] Pretty poison […]

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