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A poison pest: all about that dreaded ivy

Poison ivy is one of the most common and irritating plants found throughout Minnesota. Several common phrases to describe as well as warn people of the harm of poison ivy are: "Leaves of three, let it be." "Berries white, run in fright." "Hairy vine, no friend of mine." "Raggy rope, don't be a dope." Poison ivy contains a substance known as urushiol oil which is usually very irritating to the skin and, unless washed off shortly after being exposed, will usually result in a very bad rash developing in 24-48 hours. About 90 percent of people are allergic to urushiol oil. However, the more times you are exposed, and the more serious the exposer, even those not allergic may develop a rash. Urushiol oil is so potent that it will stay active on a surface of a dead leaf up to five years.

The following are some interesting facts about this almond-shaped-leaf plant. When sprouting in the spring, the small new leaves are bright red. Going into the summer the new leaves are always shiny and somewhat reddish. As the leaves mature they become a duller green and some are notched and some are not. In the fall leaves turn all sorts of colors of yellow, red and orange.

Poison ivy is a climber of trees. If you cut down a tree for firewood you can get a case of poison ivy from the vines that are stuck to the tree, even in winter. Inhaling smoke from burning poison ivy can cause you to be infected. The smoke from burning that vine stuck to the tree, or burning poison ivy leaves during yard maintenance, is dangerous because the poison ivy will be in your lungs.

It is good at creeping along the ground -- usually at the edge of forests or fields, or roadside and ditches. It especially likes to co-exist with pine trees. It is almost impossible to get rid of since the roots are well established under ground. You can rip out the roots, but almost never get them all, and when it comes back it is with a vengeance. And yes, you can get poison ivy from handling the roots. Under the right conditions poison ivy will explode into a shrub, usually on top of a stump or post.

One thing poison ivy does not like is constant cutting like in a lawn. However, if you are using a lawn mower or lawn trimmer to cut it, be careful you do not get any parts of the plant on you so that you get a case of poison ivy. If you have used your lawn mower or trimmer to cut poison ivy, remember that doing maintenance on them afterward can give you poison ivy. If you come in contact with poison ivy, thorough washing with soap and cold or cool water is best to remove all trace of the urushiol oil from your skin. Hot water causes the pores of your skin to open up and absorb the urushiol oil.

Animals are not known to get poison ivy. However, if your cat or other pet has been walking through or laying in or rolling around in poison ivy, and you pick them up and hold and pet them, you can get poison ivy.

So how do you get rid of poison ivy? If you have this wonder plant in or near your yard, and if you have small children, you probably should get rid of it. I do not like to recommend brands, and discourage the use of herbicides as much as possible. However in the case of poison ivy I need to recommend the use of Glyphosate and Triclopyr which is found in Round-Up, specially formulated for poison ivy. This stuff really works and you don't have to repeat it again and again, like you do if you use regular Round-Up. Remember that Round-Up is a contact herbicide and you need to have leaves open on the plant before you can spray it, if it is going to work most effectively. It is effective because it will kill the roots.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.