Poison Ivy
Toxicodendron radicans
Family Anacardiaceae

When I was a kid, I fell in a big patch of the stuff with both hands - no problem. I've walked past it, undoubtedly gotten it on my shoes, touched them later; no problem.

Last year I moved into a house with a huge healthy patch of it in a stand of pines in the back yard. I decided I wanted to get it out of there before it got worse. I was aware of the idea that multiple exposures could eventually lead to sensitivity, so I suited up in long sleeves, long pants, old boots, and gloves, and set about ripping it out of the ground and stuffing it into large garbage bags.

I quickly discoovered it had invaded even more deeply than I first thought, as I found myself pulling very long runners of it from beneath the pine duff. I thought I had individual plants to pull up, but found it was actually a very extensive network running under ground, above ground, and climbing up the trees.

As the sun went down, I had only managed to remove about one-fourth of it, so, exhausted, I hit the rest of it with a good dose of weed-killer, hoping to set it back when spring rolled around and maybe attack it again then. NOTE: even the dead, dried plant contains the irritating oil, called urushiol oil. I was aware of this, which was why I wanted to pull as much out as I could before the autumn or the poison made the rest drop dry, crispy leaves which would blow into the yard where no one would be able to tell them apart from other fall leaves.

I went inside, put my clothes in the washer, dumped in a ton of detergent and set it to use really hot water. Then I went and took a long, hot shower.

A week and a half later, I developed some itchy bumps on the backs of my forearms and knees. They were small at first, and poison ivy was the farthest thing from my mind since I KNEW I wasn't allergic to it. I thought it might be chigger bites, the way the bumps were clustered, and I read that chiggers like to get you on areas of skin that are wrinkled, like knees and wrists. After a few days the bumps started to spread into patches, and a week later I decided I should go consult the doctor.

The doctor checked them out and asked me if I'd been playing in the woods, and at this point I knew where this was going, so I asked, "Do you think it's poison ivy?" He said yes. I told him of my experience, and that I had suited up fully to protect myself just in case. He suspected that I got it from residue on the clothing or shoes, later, that maybe hadn't washed out. In researching this on the web afterwards, I discovered that urushiol is a water-soluble oil and that you are supposed to use COLD water and no soap at first to rinse it out of your clothes or off your skin, and then you can run your clothes through again with detergent, or shower yourself with hot water and soap.

The doctor told me that the rash that develops isn't necessarily going to form in places where you touched the oil. He explained that your skin is one big organ, so you may touch the leaf with your ankle, but the rash could show up on your shoulder because the skin as an organ is just reacting to the oil in your system. He also said that you can't touch the rash and spread it to another part of your body like some people think; it may appear that that happens, but that's only because your skin is still reacting and a new area is forming a rash. Or perhaps you have unwittingly re-exposed yourself by touching something that the oil is still on. It takes an unbelievably small amount of oil to give susceptible people a rash - only one billionth of a gram!

The rash lasted about a month. I thought I was going to scratch my skin off. This was even with taking the cortizone pills the doctor prescribed. After I researched poison ivy on the web, I realized my rashes weren't nearly as bad as some!


Back to the photos, or on to some links:
- If you visit no other of these sites, do look at this page.
- Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Information Center
- Poison-Ivy.org, with photos, including "The Grody Poison Ivy Skin Rash Hall of Fame Slideshow"
- The FDA page on poison ivy and its cousins
- The American Academy of Dermatology pamphlet
Poisonous Leafy Plants
- Geeky immunological information

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