Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Speaking of poison ivy

with 27 comments

The previous post, which showed a lush Virginia creeper vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) with richly red leaves, engendered a few comments about poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). That’s understandable because some or perhaps many people confuse the two vines, even though Virginia creeper normally has five leaflets and poison ivy three (but check out a post from 2015 showing a rare exception).

So far in 2017 I’ve come across several instances of poison ivy turning colors and have taken a few pictures, none of which rival my best ones because the plants themselves this season haven’t been as attractive as in certain other years. For that reason I’ve chosen to show you a photograph from November 27, 2006, when I went to north-central Austin’s Allen Park and found stands of poison ivy that remain the most colorful I’ve ever seen.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2017 at 4:45 AM

27 Responses

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  1. I like admiring this from a very long and safe distance.


    December 18, 2017 at 5:32 AM

  2. Wow! This is gorgeous. I don’t believe we have poison ivy in this country, thank goodness. Having touched something in the summer that caused painful burns and blisters on my hand which took a very long time to heal, I am happy to admire this beauty from afar. Very afar…


    December 18, 2017 at 8:01 AM

    • You can see why that stand of poison ivy from 2006 remains a photograph favorite. Today’s picture is one of several equally colorful ones I took then. You might even say I took a rash of gorgeous pictures there that day. It’s ironic that some of our most colorful fall foliage comes from such a feared and hated plant.

      I wonder if what you experienced in England was a reaction to a stinging nettle of some kind.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2017 at 8:49 AM

      • I have been stung by nettles on more occasions than i can count – I have some real stingers in this garden! This was much worse. My fingers looked as if I’d stuck them in boiling water, the blisters were that big. I think, but don’t know, it was Leylandii sap. I have had a rash from that before, but nothing this bad. Six months later and there is still a faint scar on my wrist.


        December 18, 2017 at 9:27 AM

        • So it sounds as if you are allergic to the sap, while other people might not be. I had to look up Leylandii. At https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leyland_cypress I found its interesting origin in “two North American species of conifers [planted] in close proximity to each other – Monterey cypress and Nootka cypress. The two parent species would not likely cross in the wild as their natural ranges are more than 400 miles (640 km) apart, but in 1888 the hybrid cross occurred when the female flowers or cones of Nootka cypress were fertilised by pollen from Monterey cypress.”

          In any case, I’m sorry to hear your encounter was so bad and lasted so long.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 18, 2017 at 12:22 PM

  3. I knew a woman who boasted she’d never had a reaction to it. One weekend she decided to remove a stand of it growing by her house so, bare-handed, she pulled it out. Then put it on the fire. Her resistance to it ended that weekend~she had blisters everywhere, even in her lungs!


    December 18, 2017 at 8:47 AM

    • Yikes! You may have heard me say that although I’ve never had a reaction to poison ivy, I don’t push my luck, always taking care to avoid contact. The stand of poison ivy that produced today’s picture covered quite an area, and some of the most colorful leaflets weren’t at the edge of the colony; I remember treading gingerly to make my way in to where I saw the best potential pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2017 at 8:52 AM

      • Yes. I, too, have always been cautious. When I was a butterfly monitor I sometimes had to net a specimen to ID it before releasing it. Invariably the darned things would be sitting on a poison ivy leaf, or I’d have to step gingerly through a stand of it to get to it. I took to swishing out my net in Lake Michigan at the end of a day.


        December 19, 2017 at 10:04 AM

        • Sound like a good use to put Lake Michigan to. I’ve sometimes worried about treading on poison ivy leaves and trekking urushiol back on the soles of my shoes, but so far nothing bad has happened.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 19, 2017 at 10:17 AM

    • Oh my! Thats awful. I didn’t know it could spread to your lungs😬

      The Thrifty Campers

      December 22, 2017 at 11:52 AM

      • Yes, that often results in the worst reactions. I believe I’ve read that it has occasionally even led to death.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 22, 2017 at 1:22 PM

  4. Looks so gorgeous in its autumn colours. I really need to be careful not to touch it!


    December 18, 2017 at 9:20 AM

    • The good thing is that it in the autumn it stands out against the surrounding greenery, making it much easier to spot than during the rest of the year, when it blends in.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2017 at 12:07 PM

  5. Beautiful colors. The patterns also puts me in mind of an aerial map, thermal imaging, or those color-enhanced MRI’s.
    Once you’ve become sensitized, it takes very little exposure to trigger the reaction. And Melissa mentioned someone with a really bad idea, which is burning it – -spreading oily urushiol droplets which can be inhaled. It’s one of the few situations where sometimes, a judicious shot of systemic herbicide may be the right answer.
    But this leaf is undeniably a femme/homme fatale, very attractive!

    Robert Parker

    December 18, 2017 at 9:53 AM

    • Very attractive indeed, soit homme, soit femme. You could change an old song from “Tiptoe through the tulips” to “Tiptoe through the poison,” which describes the care I took in getting pictures of the lush plants on that fall day in 2006.

      I’ve read about becoming primed to react to poison ivy. So far, even after years of tramping about in the vicinity of poison ivy, nothing has happened to me. I’ve also read that some people are inherently immune to urushiol. I hope that describes me, and that I haven’t merely been lucky.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2017 at 12:15 PM

  6. I’ve heard “leaves of 3 let them be, leaves of 5 let them thrive”


    December 18, 2017 at 5:20 PM

  7. I can see why this is a favorite. As pretty as the primary leaf is, the two leaves nearby add interest because of their own different color patterns: green, and green and yellow. There’s just a hint of red on the leaf to the right. I wonder if the color change from green, to green and yellow, to green, yellow, and red is typical.

    I’ve only gotten into poison ivy twice, and the last time I never saw it. It had to have been growing very near to the ground in the midst of other grasses; I’m sure I picked it up when I knelt down to photograph another plant. Once the blisters appeared, it still took me a while to figure out what it was.


    December 19, 2017 at 6:37 AM

    • Now there’s a project for someone: studying color changes in poison ivy leaves. Talk about an occupational hazard. Years ago I learned about European botanists planting poison ivy, but early this year I was surprised to learn that non-specialists in Europe also planted poison ivy in their gardens, right along with other exotic plants from various parts of the world.

      Sorry to hear you’ve had a reaction to poison ivy. A couple of years ago I was at an outdoor event along the Colorado River and noticed some people beginning to wander off down a narrow path with lots of poison ivy along it. I set out after them and as I got close I could see they were already stepping in some of the poison ivy. From what I’ve read, there’s a bit of a delay between contact with urushiol and a reaction to it, so I told the people to go right home and wash their legs thoroughly in warm water. Let’s hope that did the trick.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2017 at 7:06 AM

      • After my last exposure, my pharmacist told me that rubbing alcohol is a good first treatment. It doesn’t do much for reactions that already have begun, but it can keep the oil from spreading. Now, I carry a few individual alcohol wipes with me, along with the Benadryl.


        December 19, 2017 at 7:14 AM

        • From Eve’s experience as a nurse, she usually has a few alcoholic wipes with her, as they’re good for various things. So far, thankfully, she hasn’t ever had to use them for poison ivy.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 19, 2017 at 7:21 AM

  8. This poison ivy leaf reminds me of the house plant, or S.E. Asian plant, Croton.

    Steve Gingold

    December 25, 2020 at 9:54 AM

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