Monday, August 12, 2013

Meatless Monday: A Plant You Need to Know

Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, is a member of the Anacardiaceae, or Cashew, family of plants and is native to a wide portion of the United States and Canada (Nova Scotia and Quebec to British Columbia, south to Florida, Texas and Arizona).

It grows quickly and is adaptable to many growing conditions. You can find poison ivy in forest clearings, along the roadside, in trees, in city lots and in backyards. It grows in full sun to partial shade, in dry thickets or in wetlands.

As you venture out to pick your own produce in the coming weeks, or to forage in the woods this autumn, be on the lookout for this ubiquitous three-leaved plant. 

In a vacant city lot in May.

In the woods of the Berkshires in June.

Here’s the story.

The oil resin urushiol is found in every part of the poison ivy plant — its leaves, stems, and roots.  At least half of the people who come into contact with urushiol have a severe reaction to this allergen, usually within a few hours. Washing with water alone will merely spread the oil. Smoke from burning the plant can cause the most severe reaction of all; inhaling the smoke can affect your lungs. 

Identifying poison ivy can be tricky. It can be an erect deciduous shrub OR trailing vine OR climbing plant.  Leaves may be shiny OR dull, stiff and leathery OR thin, coarse-toothed and wavy-edged OR neither. Its appearance varies with the season, and there are many poison ivy look-alikes.

You may think you know poison ivy, but if you take this 55 image quiz that has been circulating among CT Master Gardeners, you will see how challenging a positive poison ivy ID can be.

When in doubt, follow this rule: “Leaves of three, let them be.”

If you are unlucky enough to have a close encounter with this plant, you can find information on symptoms and treatment here

Be careful out there. 

Have a great week. Eat well. 

I often blog on food or food issues (and sometimes plants) on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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