I don’t know about where you live… but here in South West Florida Poison Ivy can be a deceptively beautiful plant reaching great proportions! I’ve seen is covering Sable Palms and good sized bushes for support. The red color does not seem to be specific to any particular season down here either… I know of some trails here in SW Florida that have the beautiful red leaves strewn all about bushes. As a Trail Guide, it’s one of those things that you make sure every kid and adult knows how to identify, right up there with the poisonous snakes. While the plant is lovely, it has a bite that can ruin your day, your week and month if you get it bad enough.
Found in every State, in a variety of forms it was first written about by Captain John Smith of the Jamestown Colony. Poison Ivy, as a toxic substance, was considered right up there with White Snakeroot to have possibly caused the Milk Sickness experienced by Abraham Lincoln’ s mother and many other people who drank tainted cows milk. While very rare today, Milk sickness, also known as tremetol vomiting, was a serious problem up until 1928 when it was first recognized by the medical establishment as being an issue – why did it take them that long? Today it seems the consensus is that it was white snakeroot that killed Lincoln’s mother.
There are many noxious plants out there and if you are going to be out in the woods, or you have a small herd of grazing animals, you need to be aware of what the poisonous plants are so you can avoid them or in the case of your small grazing herd, remove the plants as a possible food source. (it’s always greener on the other side of the fence) In the case of Poison ivy, ALL parts of the plant right down to the roots are poisonous. That includes dried leaves… even brushing against the leaves can release the oils from the plant onto your clothing, your tent, your jacket, your walking stick… you get the idea.
A good start to figuring out what plants are poisonous in your area would be a trip to your local County Extension Service, Speaking to a Master Gardener at your local Native Plant growers, and/or checking out the USDA’s Poisonous Plants By Toxic Syndrome website and please, make sure the kids know what Poison Ivy, Sumac and Oak look like. Dr. Cathleen Clancy, associate medical director at the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C. said that across the United States last year, there were 63,000 cases of exposure to poisonous plants and of those, “About 43,000 of those were children under the age of six,” Dr. Clancy said. (2009 figure)