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Poison ivy presents challenges to residents

Never burn any part of the poison ivy plant. The smoke can cause eye and lung irritation.

Domestic animals can bring the oils in on their fur and contaminate you and your household.

Wear protective clothing, long pants, long sleeves and gloves to protect skin.

Wash clothes and gloves in hot soapy water immediately to avoid future contact with the oil on the clothing.

Clean all tools used in cutting vines or digging out roots.

Destroy both aerial and underground parts.

Poison ivy may be effectively controlled by close mowing. It will be necessary to repeat mowing to kill and starve out the stem and root.

Digging up roots is not as effective since any small root left behind will grow.

For the large hairy, vines climbing up trees, cut through the vine stopping at the bark of the tree. Cut off any regrowth of leaves from the remaining stump continuously.

For anyone who likes the outdoors, it’s hard to escape encountering a patch of poison ivy in the summer — and other seasons— in Connecticut.

If you have a large backyard, in Middlefield or Durham, that borders a woodland you’ve probably seen those shiny leaves. If you like to hike the many local trails, you know it’s there. Even folks who live in apartments or condos in well-groomed areas know that the pesky plant can make an appearance.

Recently, we asked our Facebook fans about their experiences with “leaves of three, let it be.”

Fan 1: Ugh! I literally just got rid of mine! I will say that as a remedy, good old fashioned baking soda mixed with water (forming a paste) helped tone down the itching and weeping.

Fan 2: Several years ago, my son went with a friend to Dennehy Field to watch the friend’s brother play baseball. My son and his friend were throwing a ball around in the woods there. My son came home red and itchy on his arms from fielding wayward balls in the brush. Technu worked well - it flared up a bit over the next few days when he got hot, but overall it wasn’t bad. First and last time he got poison ivy, knock on wood!

The state’s Department of Environment and Energy as well as the Cooperative Extension at UConn have information and advice for dealing with this common concern.

DEEP Natural Resource Educator Laura Rogers-Castro reminds us that although “it causes irritation for people, poison ivy is very valuable for wildlife.” The plant provides breeding and nesting cover for a variety of animals, she writes, and the fruits are a good source of carbohydrates and vitamins for 30 kinds of songbirds. Bear, deer and rabbits will eat the leaves and various moths, spiders and insects find food and habitat in poison ivy.

However, poison ivy may well grow near an area of your home that makes its presence unacceptable.

In an informational article by UConn Cooperative Extension educators, Carl A. Salsedo and Carol Quish, they explain that poison ivy contains substances that sensitize a person’s skin. These substances cause the cells of the skin to produce an “antisubstance,” a long-lived substance that can be transferred from one cell to another throughout the skin. When the sensitizing substance and the antisubstance come together, as happens when a person is exposed to the poison ivy plant a second and following times, they react together in a way that produces a small watery blister on the skin at the place where the sensitizing substance or poison contacted it.

Intense itching is common and can be severe. It could be one of the most common allergic reactions in the country, Rogers-Castro writes in “Leaves of Three, Let it Be.”

About 70 percent of the population reacts to exposure. According to the Cooperative Extension, the skin irritant is a nonvolatile phenolic substance called urushoil which is found in all parts of the plant with the greatest abundance in sap. This irritant is stable even in winter, and in dead roots and vines. Many people have caught poison ivy from dead poison ivy plants. It usually takes a year or so before the toxic properties weather away. Sensitive people may contact the irritant from smoke, dust, contaminated clothing and tools, articles and animals.

Poison ivy can be avoided with a little knowledge of its appearance and growth habit, according to Rogers-Castro. Usually, it’s found in the vine form, but also as an erect shrub; a vine climbing by aerial rootlets, or it may lie on the ground. Leaves are arranged alternately (one on a node) and are compound with three leaflets. The leaves may have a glossy or dull surface or may even be somewhat hairy, especially on the lower surface. The edges of the leaves are smooth, toothed or somewhat lobed. In early spring, emerging leaves are reddish color. After a while they may be a shiny green. They often will be dull green during the summer months but turn yellow or scarlet as autumn approaches. Flowers and fruit are always in clusters on slender stems that originate in the axis of the leaves. The fruits usually have a white, waxy appearance. Clusters of small, round fruit appear in late summer and often persist all winter. Seeds germinate freely. Seedlings produce creeping stems or rootstocks from the lowest nodes.

Poison ivy is especially abundant in dry, rocky soil, in thickets along the edges of fields, woods, roads and paths. When the vines grow on trees, the aerial roots attach the vines securely and often give the general appearance of a fuzzy rope. Poison ivy even grows in sandy soils along the shore. Because of its variation in appearance, a person who is familiar with poison ivy in one part of the country, may not recognize it in another.

For more information go to or

(Information from The Connecticut Cooperative Extension System and the state Department of Energy and Environment.)

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