During the summer months, the Gwinnett County Extension Service office receives numerous calls on poison ivy, with questions ranging from "What does it look like?" to "How to get rid of it?"
Poison ivy, a vine, and its closely related relative, poison oak, which has a shrub-like form, are common poisonous plants in Georgia. Poison ivy is the cause of thousands of cases of itchy, red rashes and blisters. Everyone who works outdoors or is involved in any sort of outdoors activity needs to know what poison ivy looks like.
Poison ivy is often found growing up trees or fence posts. The leaves are alternately arranged, and each compound leaf consists of three bright, green, shiny leaflets. Leaflets are elliptical in shape and have either toothed or lobed margins, with reddish coloring in the small stems between the leaflets. Poison ivy is often misidentified when someone sees a plant with an unusual leaf. It's best to follow the old saying "leaflets of three, let it be."
All parts of the plant - stems, roots, flowers and fruit - are poisonous at all times of the year. The toxic chemical in the leaves is called urushiol. People are often exposed when they brush against the plant and bruise the leaves. Some people are highly allergic to it, while others have a greater resistance to the toxin.
It can also be spread by equipment, clothing or animals that have come in contact with the plant. Using a weed eater to remove poison ivy will result in spraying your legs with poison ivy. If you are bare-legged and get scratches while splattered with sap from poison ivy, you may be headed to the emergency room. The toxin can also be carried in smoke from burning poison ivy.
It usually takes 12 to 48 hours for symptoms to appear. If contact with the plant is suspected, wash the affected area with cold water. Warm water and soap will only help the toxin spread under the skin. Many ointments and lotions can help treat the rash and the blisters. For more severe cases, consult a physician.
Several methods exist for controlling poison ivy. Continually cutting, tilling or mowing poison ivy will eventually get rid of it. Digging out the poison ivy plants from the roots is effective, especially in beds of ornamental plants. When doing this, always wear the necessary protective, waterproof gloves and long-sleeved shirts. Wash all clothes thoroughly.
Poison ivy can also be controlled by the application of herbicides, or weed killers. Because poison ivy has an extensive root system, several applications may be necessary for effective control. Two herbicides that are effective for the control of poison ivy are glyphosate (Roundup and Kleenup) and triclopyr (Brush-Be-Gone).
For best results, apply these herbicides on warm, sunny days to actively growing plants. Be extremely careful in spraying around desirable plants, because misapplication and wind drift could harm them, as well. As with any pesticide, follow the directions on the label and use extreme caution when using them.
Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.