Updated: Nov 20, 2018
Every year we seem to become more poison ivy savvy on the farm. But, we still keep getting it seemingly oddly enough, lol. I wanted to give a little insight to what the plant looks like, how to cope, and when you should take action against mother nature's invasive friend!
To start, let's identify this satanic, I mean, extraordinary New York-native plant! I'm sure you've heard the common description, "3 shiny leaves" to describe Poison Ivy's appearance. This is pretty accurate, and the only time i've noticed variation to counteract this statement, is in the appearance of young leaves to mature leaves.
Can you spot the Poison Ivy in the image to the left I took for you? There are a few different plants, but the two main ones are Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper. Both are climbing plants, and I would NOT recommend eating or rolling around in either.
Virginia Creeper vine has 5 leaves, but may have less as a young plant. It's located in the upper center of the image.
Poison Ivy has 3 leaves, and you can notice some color variation between the younger and mature leaves presented throughout the image. Also, as Poison Ivy climbs and spreads, the vine system grows many little hair-like roots to anchor itself.
Here, the ivy climbs up a White Pine that unfortunately broke in 3 places, and came crashing down this spring in high winds.
Now you know what Poison Ivy looks like, here's some insight on what to do when you come in contact with it! First, it's important to know that this plant secrets Urushiol oil as a protectant which is what causes us to get rashy and itchy. Urushiol is a colorless, light-weight almost seemingly invisible oil, so it's difficult to know if it's even on you in the first place. If you think you have come in contact with Poison Ivy, wash your clothes before you touch other surfaces. You don't want those oils on your furniture or upholstery! Have you ever gotten grease or oil on your hands? Note it's difficult to remove without a scrub brush, wash cloth, or other type of towel-like apparatus. So, in places that Urushiol may have been in contact with the skin, I like to use a degreasing agent like Dawn Dish Soap and a scrubby brush to scrub my hands, under my nails, and wherever else I typically get it. [ I typically get it on my legs, feet, shoulders, face, arms, stomach, chest, and sides] because it starts on my hands when i'm working outside in my non-protective attire and I suddenly develop an itch or a fly to swat, lol every timeeeeeee. So, just wash up as soon as you can, and you will most likely be just fine.
IF YOU DO GET THE RASH: It's gonna be so itchy you want to scratch your skin off. When I get the rash, it's because I do not use any preventative measures, and don't wash the areas of contact for at least 7 hours after contact. You could just skip the rash by washing after your contact, but I am a glutton for punishment, and equally too lazy to walk up to the house, and it's far too hot to NOT wear shorts and crocs and a tank top. I like to scrub the rash with dish soap and a scrub brush once i've gotten it. I also burn my rash areas with 130 Degree F water, just because it seems to scratch the itch without me scratching. I also enjoy scalding hot showers just because. Now that you've cleaned the rash area, or I have anyways, I recommend laying a paper towel soaked in vinegar (I like white but I heard apple cider is also great) on the affected area for a while. You better hang on because if you scrubbed with a scrubby as hard as I did and burnt your remaining skin with hot water, this vinegar is gonna give you a burn, hotter than the sun! Not really, but it does suck, not gonna lie.
That's pretty much it to take care of the rash, you can repeat 2x a day or as needed, but be sure to use a clean scrubber or you will re-introduce the rash back to new and existing areas since oil doesn't come off easy. If you use a wash cloth, just put it in the washer and it will be good to go next time.
Equally traumatizing, note this 3 leafed zone of horrors I walk through like its nothing with my hand me down crocs. The other 3 leafer is raspberry/blackberry plants; thorny yet delicious critters. Here's another way I get Poison Ivy: my chickens and goats walk through it, collecting Urushiol Oil on their feathers and fur, and I pick them up like they never have traveled a day through the stuff. I cuddle them and carry them around...yeah, that's why I keep getting it. I know where I go wrong, I just don't care, and scratch the bejesus out of my wounds until there is nothing left. whatevs.
If you want to get rid of the plant, just spray some weed spray, chemical or make your own with vinegar. Try this recipe if you find some in your yard:
3 cups vinegar
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon liquid dish soap
Mix vinegar and salt until the salt is completely dissolved. Stir in liquid detergent, and pour into a sprayer. Spray onto the green growing leaves of the plants.
Wait a week, then repeat on any survivors. Best time to apply: during a dry spell. Do not spray on plants you want to keep.