Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Pretty poison, differently grown and differently hued

with 14 comments

Poison Ivy Turning Red 6979

Click for greater clarity and size.

In the last post you saw some poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, growing as a lush vine on a tree trunk. This protean plant also has the potential to develop into a forb, and that’s the form you’re seeing a bunch of here. These poison ivy plants were especially colorful, with leaves going well beyond yellow and turning conspicuously red.

Today’s photograph comes from Great Northern Blvd.* on a cold and windy December 6th. I willingly put up with the bad weather for a chance to photograph poison ivy looking more colorful than I’d seen it in years. Sweet are the uses of adversity, no?


* Work has just begun on the addition of a fourth (and first tolled) lane in each direction on the expressway called Mopac. From what I’ve read in the newspaper, a tall sound-deflecting wall is to be built, and that will almost certainly mean the destruction of all the native plants I’ve been photographing for several years now in the no-man’s-land (or better yet this-man’s-land) between Great Northern Blvd. and the railroad tracks running alongside Mopac (whose name comes from the Missouri Pacific Railroad). If you’d like to look back and see some of the photographs I’ve taken there in the last couple of years, you can. I don’t know how many more there will be.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2013 at 5:55 AM

14 Responses

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  1. Back in the days when I categorized plants as “pretty” or “not pretty”, I came across a lot of red, low growing “whatevers” in the hill country. Now I know some was sumac and some was Virginia creeper, but there must not have been much (or any) poison ivy. It’s so pretty I would have tried to pick it for arrangements – much to my chagrin, no doubt.

    When I read the definition of “forb”, I smiled as it made me think of “Forbes” magazine. Of course I wondered if there might be a connection, and indeed there is. There’s an extra smile in the fact that the Irish branch of the name comes from words meaning “man” and “prosperity”.


    December 20, 2013 at 8:07 AM

    • Interesting.

      Jim in IA

      December 20, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    • You’re fortunate never to have tried to pick any poison ivy, unless you’re among the minority of people who are immune to the effects, in which case you’re even more fortunate. Of the plants you mentioned, the sumacs and poison ivy are in the same botanical family, the Anacardiaceae. Virginia creeper, with leaflets just as colorful, is in the Vitaceae, or grape family; I’ll have a picture of them in a few days.

      I can relate to forbs, which I often photograph. In the Irish etymology I can relate to “man,” being one, but not to the prosperity of a certain Forbes, unless he’s willing to spend lavishly for some of my photographs of forbs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2013 at 9:23 AM

  2. I truly hesitate to ‘like’ this (and the previous) image for I am very, very, sensitive to the stuff. Made me itch just looking at it! Many years ago I learned a pretty good trick to calming the itching … I run hot water, as hot as I can stand it without (of course) burning the skin, over the affected area. The sensation is intense itching initially and then a very calming effect. [I hope I have affect and effect correct here … it’s early still.] In this scientists’s view I believe two things are happening. First, I believe that the heat increases histamine release (which causes the crazy intensification of the itching) and second, the heat also increases circulation in the area which cases the stuff to be whisked away … thereby reducing the itching. What do you think of my treatment and my hypotheses? D

    Pairodox Farm

    December 20, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    • Yes, however early it may have been, you do have the nouns affect and effect correctly distinguished. Your explanation of why that poison ivy treatment works for you is plausible, and it shouldn’t be hard to do some experiments to test for the hypothesized histamine release and blood flow. I wonder how far into the bloodstream the urushiol (the active component in poison ivy) works its way, as opposed to staying on or near the surface of the skin. I’ve read that urushiol is soluble in water, so your hot water treatment might get rid of the chemical more quickly than cold water.

      In any case, I’m sorry you’ve had to think about such things. I’ve done some ginger moving around in recent years to take close pictures of this plant, and fortunately I’ve never been affected; I hope it stays that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2013 at 12:37 PM

  3. Love it Steve! Poison Ivy can be SO PRETTY! It was not until 1985 (born in 1949) that I finally got my first case of poison ivy. A very bad case, that sent me to the doctor who gave me steroid shots. Surely I was not allergic to the plant till that point, since my childhood home backed up to wonderful woods, where I played often. Still I enjoy seeing it and photographing it in every stage and form. I’m particularly intrigued by the berries, since the birds love them, and few people know that, what they consider a wicked plant, would get berries!

    As for the additional lane. Progress is so sad/painful and surely another way could be found.

    Brenda Jones

    December 20, 2013 at 9:16 PM

    • Yes, it can be wonderful, Brenda. I’m glad you know that, though sorry that poison ivy got to you in 1985. I’m still unscathed, but I’ve read that people can develop a susceptibility after small cumulative exposures, and perhaps that’s what happened to you. I, too, have enjoyed photographing the various forms and stages of the plant, including the whitish little fruits, which I showed as a secondary element in a post last December:


      I wish the highway construction project would spare my no-man’s-land, but I’m afraid that’s not to be. It’ll be one more of the many places I’ve seen destroyed here over the last 15 years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2013 at 9:56 PM

  4. Steven, I laughed so much when you said you had been shooting in “the no-man’s-land”. Yesterday I was in the biggest ‘maleza’ yard in an urban area here in P.R.. Here ‘maleza’ refers to ‘weedy’ areas where no one wants to be at, so that’s the reason they call it that way. I’m so envious of all this colour you are showing, as I’m missing the autumn in the U.S.. I had no idea Poison Ivy turned this color.

    Maria F.

    December 20, 2013 at 9:19 PM

    • I’m familiar with the word maleza, Maria. I’ve gotten some of my best pictures among the “weeds.”

      It was in 2006 that I first discovered the great colors and patterns that can appear in the leaves of poison ivy when they change in the fall. Central Texas is far enough south that we don’t get the large-scale fall foliage that I grew up with in the deciduous forests of the Northeast, so I revel in the small amounts of fall colors= that we do get here. Poison ivy is one of the most reliable sources of that color, though photographing it involves more caution than with other plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2013 at 9:42 PM

  5. Lovely to look at, but dreadful if touched! You’ve captured it well, Steve!


    December 24, 2013 at 12:52 PM

  6. I’m sorry to hear about the roadworks and loss of land that will result. I hope you find another source of wild plant inspiration.

    Mufidah Kassalias

    December 29, 2013 at 7:09 AM

    • I’ll still have plenty of other places to go, Mufidah, but I feel each new loss—and there have been plenty in 15 years—when I think back to how the place once looked.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2013 at 8:07 AM

  7. […] query led to a post called “Pretty poison, differently grown and differently hued,” but I doubt it had much meanung for the […]

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