Friday, June 22, 2012

Poison Ivy and Pokeweed- Double Trouble

Tis the season...

Summer is upon us, and although nothing compares to time spent outdoors embracing nature, we're finding that it's time to start educating our children about plant safety.

We are a family that loves to be outside whenever we can, even heading out in the rain to stomp in puddles. Nature hikes are a regular part of our lives and we wouldn't have it any other way. 

But recently, while prancing around our property at home, I watched my 3-year-old daughter teach my 21-year-old sister how to identify poison ivy.  I realized that many people are really not sure what to look out for when it comes to dangerous plants. I, myself, couldn't positively identify most troublesome plants until my 20s, when I began spending much more time in the "real" outdoors, camping and hiking in true woods.

So my daughter and I traipsed around our property and the local woods to snap some photos to help others feel more confident in identifying these plants. 

For starters, we found tons of very young poison ivy. Of course, you want to stay away from this nasty plant, which can be a trailing or climbing vine or a shrub, at any stage. Poison ivy contains urushiol in its sap, which causes the itchy rash on many people. And yes...I've said it too. "I'm not allergic!" The human body changes over time, and although I used to be able to walk through knee high poison ivy with no consequence, sadly, those days are over. It's best to steer clear and wise to teach your kids to identify it early so they can follow suit. If you've ever had even the smallest dot of poison ivy rash, you know what I'm talking about here. It itches like MAD!

The young leaves are usually a very bright green color that darkens as the plant matures. All poison ivy has three almond shaped leaves with pointed ends, and there are no thorns. The three leaves grow on their own stem, connected to a vine which is also extremely poisonous and often has a hairy or furry appearance. 
Here we found a young climbing vine, making its way up a tree.
Often young poison ivy has a reddish tinge on its leaves, as seen here
Brand new leaves, always three with sharp, pointed ends

Tree climbers develop thick, often "hairy" vines
Here you can see the older poison ivy is a darker green shade than the younger, brighter green poison ivy in the middle. 
The vines LOVE trees. They grow and climb rapidly.
Big Daddy of a hairy vine, climbing a tree in the forest.  Do not touch!
Here is some poison ivy surrounded by other plants. It is easy to identify because of the jagged, 3 leaves and that shiny coating.
This stuff can and WILL grow just about anywhere!
Note how each three-leaf cluster has its own stem.
The leaves often have a shiny appearance.
Below here, you can see a monster vine which was growing along the side of our shed. My husband chopped the vine, so you can see that the leaves are wilting and dying in this photo. Once poison ivy is well established, it forms white berries. Birds love to eat these, and after they have ingested the berries, they defecate and spread the seeds. Since our property is bird paradise, tons of poison ivy comes with the territory. 
Nasty, hairy vine of a climber

Poison ivy also changes color in the fall, from yellow to orange to bright red. There are many ways to remove it, but we have found the most success in suiting up completely to manually pull the vines up out of the ground. 

Now pokeweed presents a big problem on our property because it is EVERYWHERE, highly invasive and has beautiful tantalizing berries (sometimes called "inkberries") that look delicious. Unfortunately, consuming even a small handful of this fruit is enough to cause a serious problem for humans, especially children. It is definitely wisest to try to get rid of any pokeweed that might be accessible to children before those berries pop. 

Berries are just starting to spring out on this pokeweed that we found across the street from our house.
The bright green stalk grows quickly and can get very tall.
Young pokeweed before berries
We often find pokeweed right under or near tall trees on our property.

Berries beginning to form
Thick stalk
Because pokeweed can be dangerous, we try to get rid of it as soon as possible. The root is actually the most toxic part of the plant, but there is less danger that a child would try to eat this part of the pokeweed. The roots are hardy and very difficult to pull or dig out, so we just chop the plant as far down as we are able. Fortunately, they do cut down easily, but be sure to wash your hands thoroughly, with soap, if you come in contact with any part of this plant.

Hit the plant as low down as you can to remove it.

The stalk becomes a purplish color as the plant matures.

Here is a residual stalk from a pokeweed that has been cut down and removed. The inside is a milky white color.

Very young berries forming. They become a deep purple as they mature. 

Five foot tall pokeweed we found along a fence near the woods
For our family, our best defense is knowledge and education. We are teaching our children to identify all types of plants in hopes that they will learn to appreciate and respect nature. We know it's not rational to expect that we can keep our kids away from poison ivy, pokeweed and other potentially dangerous plants, especially not on our wooded property (insert SIGH here), but we hope that with proper guidance and diligent effort, we can help them learn to be wise, nature-lovin' tots.

Happy SUMMER, everyone!

***To read my follow up on pokeweed in late summer, head on over here.

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

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