Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A temporarily colorful but always fearsome vine

with 18 comments

Poison Ivy Vine Turning Colors 9035

Most people rightly fear poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, which grows in multiple forms, including as a vine. Here it is in that form, and look how it’s climbed into the canopy of a tree. If you can suspend your animosity toward this plant, I think you’ll find its autumn yellow and orange attractive, especially in contrast to the sky’s bright blue behind them.

Today’s picture comes from the cool but obviously sunny morning of November 25th along Great Northern Blvd. in north-central Austin.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that points 3, 5, 15, and 18 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 5, 2014 at 4:30 AM

18 Responses

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  1. Very attractive.


    December 5, 2014 at 4:55 AM

    • That’s how my eyes see it. I’m glad its irritating chemical can’t act at a distance, or else those same eyes would be in trouble

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 5, 2014 at 5:00 AM

      • But some people are affected by the toxins in the smoke, if poison ivy is part of a field or brush pile burn. It’s always a good idea to stand upwind of smoke in those instances, just in case.

        I really like the sinuous curves of the vine. If we put this bit of Nature up against Jackson Pollock, I’d say Nature would win.


        December 7, 2014 at 7:08 PM

        • I’ve read that people who breathe in smoke from burning poison ivy can suffer a more serious reaction than usual because the active chemical gets inside the body rather than just on its surface. People have supposedly even died from inhaling the smoke.

          Now if I could sell these viny curves for as much as a Jackson Pollock painting fetches, I’d be set for the rest of my life.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 7, 2014 at 10:47 PM

  2. I hesitated for a moment or two before pushing the LIKE button. I think I have told you that I am very allergic to Poison Ivy (Ivy Poison or just Poison). Just looking at these leaves sends shivers. I’m sure, that even in this senescing state, this autumnal vine is potent-as-heck. After more than three decades of marriage to a fully-qualified systematic botanist, Joanna is dumbfounded that I cannot reliably identify this plant in the field. Lotions provide no relief but I have found that it helps to pour nearly-scalding water over the affected area. This increases circulation and I have come to believe that the increased in circulation hastens the removal of histamines, thus reducing the intensity of the allergic reaction and that infernal itching. D

    Pairodox Farm

    December 5, 2014 at 5:01 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear this plant is your nemesis, D, and equally glad that I’ve never suffered any ill effects from it. Your remedy sounds almost as bad as the affliction itself, but apparently it’s the lesser of two evils for you, and you’re fortunate to have found something that helps. Let’s hope pharmacologists eventually come up with something even better.

      From what I’ve read, you’re correct that the relevant chemical, urushiol, remains active regardless of the state of the plant. I once came across an account of someone being affected by a two-centuries-old specimen in an herbarium. Talk about persistence.

      Autumn is the one time of year when poison ivy stands out by virtue of its colors and therefore is relatively easy to spot against the greenery of other plants around it. The innocuous Virginia creeper also turns colors in the fall, but its compound leaves have five leaflets, compared to poison ivy’s three.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 5, 2014 at 5:16 AM

  3. I spent most of my life relatively immune to this stuff, but the last few years have seen some itching and spreading rash. Still not as bad as some folks like David.
    Sometimes beauty does carry some level of danger and P.I. Definitely falls into that description.
    This is a very nice view with the trademark Schwartzman sky, although I might be worried about falling oil. And, yes, one can still be affected by this plant even leafless and in the winter….so I have heard but not experienced.

    Steve Gingold

    December 5, 2014 at 6:18 AM

    • Sorry to hear that this stuff has belatedly caught up with you, Steve, even if in a milder form than most others get it.

      Yes, there’s some amount of danger that I’m willing to undertake as a nature photographer, and I’ve had to work close to poison ivy on plenty of occasions, but as you heard me say above, so far I’ve been exempt. I’m happy to keep it that way, too.

      Your mention of the azure background suddenly reminded me of the song “Blue Skies.” Here are a few things about it that I just learned from Wikipedia: “The song was composed in 1926 as a last-minute addition to the Rodgers and Hart musical Betsy. Although the show ran for 39 performances only, ‘Blue Skies’ was an instant success, with audiences on opening night demanding 24 encores of the piece from star Belle Baker. During the final repetition, Ms. Baker forgot her lyrics, prompting Berlin to sing them from his seat in the front row.”

      Then I wondered if Irving Berlin ever got poison ivy. When I did a search I didn’t find an answer to that question, but I did find a song he wrote called “How Can I Change My Luck?” that mentions poison ivy:

      I’ve looked ’round for a lucky charm of the popular kind
      That would keep me away from harm, they’re not easy to find.
      Four leaf clover and rabbit’s feet, lucky as they may be,
      May help others, but I repeat, they have never helped me.

      The rabbit’s foot that I found one day
      Was on a rabbit that ran away.
      Ooh, ooh, what’ll I do?
      How can I change my luck?

      The four leaf clover I stooped to pick
      Was poison ivy and made me sick.
      Ooh, ooh, what’ll I do?
      How can I change my luck?

      I hung a horseshoe right over my bed:
      Down came the horseshoe on top of my head.

      The lucky star that I long to see
      Is shining somewhere, but not for me.
      Ooh, ooh, what’ll I do?
      How can I change my luck?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 5, 2014 at 7:53 AM

  4. Interesting how it turns orange-yellow there and scarlet here. Difference in soils, do you suppose? When I was a butterfly monitor, it seemed the rule that they would land on poison ivy if I needed to net them for ID purposes. I would periodically have to trek across the dunes to swish my net in the Lake but luckily I never had a reaction. Always cautious, however!


    December 5, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    • Ah, but wait till tomorrow’s post and the colors will change, thanks to poison ivy’s versatility.

      Funny how to-be-netted butterflies think it’s poetic justice to land on poison ivy. Such mischievous critters, but you managed to outwit them. That happily makes two of us, and let’s hope our respective cautions keep things that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 5, 2014 at 5:00 PM

  5. Right up to a few days ago that was exactly how my garden appeared…A killer frost and a dusting of snow has pushed us directly into winter. I am going through the garden catalogs this weekend and planning for spring.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    December 6, 2014 at 1:06 AM

    • Your world is so different from the one here, where temperatures yesterday got up into the 70s. New rounds of several wildflowers have appeared, most noticeably greenthread. A couple of days ago I photographed goldeneye and bush sunflowers, and I even saw a Maximilian sunflower opening. We could still get (and will eventually get) a sub-freezing night that will put an end to most of that, but in the meantime the mildness is quite pleasant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2014 at 8:36 AM

  6. “Suspend animosity.” Ha! We pulled up a couple of vines on Black Friday during our annual mulching. Thankfully, I didn’t make any direct contact. Can’t say the same for Hubs…

    I prefer to enjoy your photos from a safe distance, thanks.


    December 6, 2014 at 7:25 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear about your husband and his Black Friday experience of a type most people don’t have in mind when they refer to the day that way. I imagine he isn’t about to suspend his animosity toward poison ivy, the quintessential look-but-don’t-touch plant. That said, it can get quite attractive, and I enjoy photographing it to bring it to the rest of you at a safe distance.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2014 at 8:43 AM

  7. This plant has caused me so much grief I don’t feel I dare suspend my animosity. Another beauty that is a terror for some of us is Ruta graveolens. I innocently bought some at a garden center, planted it, watched it flourish, then, mid-summer, sat on a small stool to weed in its midst. This allowed me the rare opportunity to learn another medical term new to me: phytophotodermatitis. My case almost literally became a “textbook case.” A doctor friend who specialized in poison control and related, photographed the blisters for inclusion in a medical text. (To add insult to injury, she lost the photos!) And back to our foe poison ivy, that’s how I learned another fine medical term: id reaction (a/k/a autoeczematization).

    Susan Scheid

    December 13, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    • It looks like the conflicts of the Balkans followed you to New York. I say that because when I looked up Ruta graveolens, the Wikipedia article I found indicates that it’s native to the Balkans. Ironically, as far as you’re concerned, a vernacular name for the plant is herb-of-grace, even if common rue is a more widespread name. (And now I can’t help imagining that you’re reciting the A.E. Housman line “With rue my heart is laden.“) I’m sorry you didn’t become a textbook case, whatever little glory that might have meant, but it might also have reminded you of your travail. Given your experiences with rue and poison ivy, I can see why you don’t dare suspend your animosity. Fortunately I’ve never experienced any autoeczematization (a new word for me too) from poison ivy, and I might be among the minority that’s not susceptible, but I always work carefully around poison ivy just in case.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      • Yes, that Balkan connection (and “herb-of-grace” name) caught my attention, too. (And love the Housman quote!) It is amusing to think back on my poison ivy experiences vis-a-vis your photographs . . . well, in one sense . . . Until I got poison ivy the second time, from pulling vines off our trees out on Long Island, some years back, in the dead of winter, I didn’t know it climbed trees. Now I think (and hope) I know it in all its many disguises!

        Susan Scheid

        December 13, 2014 at 11:32 AM

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