Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A lush and colorful revelation

with 26 comments

Poison Ivy Turning Colors 0361

In the last post you saw poison ivy in its vine form turning colors, as the plant usually does here in late November or early December. Earlier on that same morning of November 25th I’d turned north off 45th St. onto Perry Lane when suddenly the blaze of colors shown here greeted me in the front yard of a house. All that wonderful color was coming once again from poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). The plant was so lush I couldn’t initially tell what form it had taken, but eventually I peered through openings between the leaves and found that the poison ivy appeared to be in its bush form. What’s more, it had taken root beneath an often-planted invasive type of non-native tree (alas!) and had almost completely eclipsed the lower part of it (yay!). Notice that not only can poison ivy’s leaflets turn yellow or yellow-orange, as you saw last time, but they can go all the way to red.

Three days later I passed back by and knocked on the door of the house. I asked the woman who answered whether she knew that all those pretty-colored leaves were poison ivy, and in fact she didn’t. She added—I think separately from the fact that the plant had turned out to be poison ivy—that she didn’t find the leaves attractive. Oh well, one person’s gorgeous fall foliage is another person’s blah.

Another six days later, on the morning of December 4th, I happened to drive past the house again just when a fire engine and an EMS vehicle were out front with their lights flashing. I saw that the woman I’d spoken with a week earlier was being wheeled out to the ambulance on a gurney. She was conscious and didn’t seem to be in distress, but obviously something must have happened to her.

This is the second recent photograph I’ve posted from an iPhone 5s. When I took pictures at this site the first time I didn’t have my regular photo equipment with me, but I was happy enough with the phone’s version that I didn’t feel any need to redo it—aside from which the leaves and the weather were both duller three days later when I stopped by the second time.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 6, 2014 at 5:27 AM

26 Responses

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  1. Hopefully, her problem was not related to the poison ivy.

    This is a lush looking plant, but in all honesty, were it in our yard it would not be for long. PI is the only thing I have ever used Roundup on. It has sprouted within plants in our gardens, on many of our trees and shrubs and occasionally just in the middle of the lawn. We do not fancy having folks come from miles around to celebrate our “Hanging Garden of Toxicodendron radicans”.

    Steve Gingold

    December 6, 2014 at 5:37 AM

    • I like your phrase “Hanging Garden of Toxicodendron radicans” and I’m with you in saying that such a lush display of poison ivy wouldn’t last in my yard. A while after we moved into our current house in 2004, I noticed that a few small poison ivy plants had sprung up in the back yard, so I followed your example and sprayed them with an herbicide. Not only is poison ivy native in the woods here, but it thrives in our environment, so it probably would have spread fairly quickly if I’d left it alone.

      Also like you, I wondered if the woman’s medical problem had anything to do with the poison ivy, but I doubt it. When I stopped there I noticed a wooden ramp had been built near the front door, so I think the woman was disabled and probably didn’t go into the yard.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2014 at 8:21 AM

      • As oneowner mentions, it could be considered a public health concern at that size, although I suppose one might need to trespass for it to be a threat, but the owner is still responsible. We have some neighbors, the wife is very very allergic- I think just the mention starts an itch, who routinely knock on doors asking people to remove the stuff.

        Steve Gingold

        December 6, 2014 at 8:32 AM

        • When I told the woman what sort of plant she had growing so luxuriantly there, she said she would talk to the person who maintains the yard about it, but I don’t know if she did. As for your neighbor, I don’t think she’d appreciate this picture, as colorful as it is.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 6, 2014 at 8:50 AM

  2. I wonder if that much poison ivy is considered a public health violation, especially since it seems to be so accessible. I do find it attractive in this stage, though. And the iPhone did a fine job.


    December 6, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    • Your question about a public health violation is one I never thought about. As lush as the poison ivy was, it seemed to be confined to this one place in her yard. It posed no immediate threat to anyone else, but as I mentioned to Steve in the previous comment, the plant is good at spreading.

      The technology in phones has improved so much that almost everyone now has a reasonably good camera at all times. We live in the most photographed world ever.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2014 at 8:29 AM

  3. How beautiful!
    Steve, I changed the URL to http://tropicalfloweringzone.wordpress.com so some RSS feeders will not get updates of my blog. Just letting you know. The WordPress Reader feed gets them, but third party RSS readers might have to be updated.

    Maria F.

    December 6, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    • Who’d have thought that something so noxious could look so lovely, right?

      Thanks for the updated URL.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2014 at 10:08 AM

  4. How poetic that the non-native tree got swallowed up by a poison ivy bush! I love that. We have a lot of poison ivy in our nature preserves, and I’m glad to say it is never this boisterous here (that I’ve seen). It straggles along the ground, though, waiting for the unsuspecting foot to stray from the trail.


    December 6, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    • Yes, I thought it was poetic justice, as people call such things. Most people would think I’m crazy for preferring poison ivy to that alien tree, but then many people would find other preferences of mine weird too.

      Today’s picture is a response to your comment last time about the colors poison ivy can turn. An individual poison ivy leaflet can also take on different colors at the same time and exhibit patterns reminiscent of paisley or fractals, but I didn’t find a good example of that to photograph this year. The best I ever encountered was in 2006, and although I’ve never found any as picturesque in the years since then, I’m always hopeful I will again.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2014 at 10:35 AM

  5. Sensational colours


    December 6, 2014 at 2:44 PM

  6. My first reaction what that the woman had taken it upon herself to remove the ivy and had some sort of massive reaction. I’ve read above and that seems not to have been the case.

    Pairodox Farm

    December 6, 2014 at 3:15 PM

    • Correct. The woman was disabled and couldn’t have undertaken a big project like that. Even a fully able person would need lots of protection against such a large mass of poison ivy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2014 at 3:23 PM

  7. Your fall photo so full of color is such an amazing gift on this cold dreary winter day.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    December 6, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    • Yesterday and today here fell into the pattern of a dreary morning slowly giving way to a clearing afternoon. It’s now sunny in Austin and 66°.

      No matter how cloudy the Northwest is, I’ll have a good number of colorful fall photos coming to cheer you over the next couple of weeks, so take heart.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2014 at 3:30 PM

  8. Do you know if the poison ivy was the cause of her problem? It’s nasty stuff for those highly sensitive to it. It doesn’t affect me much, and doesn’t affect my wife at all. But my daughter was so sensitive that she’d swell all over and we’d have to take her to the doctor for a shot if she got too close to it. I’ve heard that the Iroquois used to burn it upwind of enemy villages as some kind of prehistoric biological warfare.

    For some reason here it is called poison oak, even though that is actually a different plant.

    For all its faults, it is pretty in the fall.


    December 7, 2014 at 6:23 AM

    • No, I don’t believe the poison ivy was connected to the woman’s medical problem (though I don’t know what that problem was). The woman was apparently disabled and wouldn’t have dealt with the poison ivy herself, especially after I’d told her what it was.

      The trouble with common names, as you’ve seen, is that different people sometimes use the same name for different species and call different species by the same name. In addition to the terms poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac compounds the problem.

      What you report hearing about the “biological warfare” of the Iroquois is new to me. Seems they’d have had to rely on a strong wind, and one not subject to sudden changes in direction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2014 at 8:36 AM

      • Yeah, it would seem to be a risky tactic. I googled it to see if I could find any verification. One publication cited this in support: ERICHSEN-BROWN, CHARLOTTE. 1979. Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes. Dover Publications, New York.


        December 7, 2014 at 10:53 AM

        • I did a little searching (thanks, Google), and found that her reference was to an English translation of works in French from the 1500s by a priest named André Thevet, who wrote about the Indians of the St. Lawrence during their wars: “They also use poisons made from the leaves of trees, herbs, and fruits, which are dried in the sun, and placed amongst the faggots and branches, then they set fire when they see the enemy approaching… Or, to fortify themselves, without loosing any of their men, they take a lot of faggots, pieces of small wood tied together, and branches of cedar all greased with seal and other fish oil, & some poisonous composition, & seeing their enemies, try to turn them against the wind, & place their enemy to face it [the wind] : & then they set fire to the faggots, from which comes a smoke so thick, black and dangerous to breathe, as much for the fetid odor as for the poison mixed in these faggots, that several are suffocated.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 7, 2014 at 2:32 PM

  9. That is impressive color! I must admit, that as I read about the lady being carted away my first thought was similar to Bill’s; she’d tried to burn it. I do hope she is OK!


    December 7, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    • When I saw all this color, I knew I had to stop, and so I did. The follow-ups were developments unlike most that I’ve dealt with in a series devoted to native plants, but that’s where things led this time. It reminds me of the time when I was a couple of miles north of that spot and someone called EMS after seeing me lying on the embankment of an expressway. The person who called apparently didn’t see that I had a camera in my hands and was taking pictures of wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2014 at 9:43 AM

  10. I remember your story about the EMT being called. Nice, actually, although it might have been better for the caller to check things out a bit before pulling the alarm

    That’s an interesting discussion between you and Bill about the Iroquois and their use of biological weapons. Given my comment about smoke in your previous post, it seems reasonable. I went over to Google and pulled this article pretty much at random. It makes sense that firefighters would have more of a problem with it than anyone else, but it’s still good to be aware.


    December 7, 2014 at 7:26 PM

    • I never thought about the danger that burning poison ivy presents to firefighters, in forest fires as well as fires in homes and the yards around them. At another website I found this:

      “Reactions to poison ivy, oak and sumac are recognized within the industry as one of the top causes of disability and lost work time for firefighters,” said Robyn Benincasa, a San Diego firefighter. “It is important to become educated about how to recognize the plants and do everything possible to minimize the chances of inhaling the toxic urushiol vapors.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2014 at 6:28 AM

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