How to Identify Poison Ivy

Poison ivy creeps. It climbs. Thanks to a range of harmless lookalikes, it confuses. So how do you guard yourself against such a formidable foe? Know all its faces. The standard “Leaves of three, let them be” is a good start, but green beans, box elder, strawberries and other plants have leaf trios too, so delve deeper (at a safe distance):

See any red in that plant patch? Young poison ivy leaves start out red. They’re also shiny. As the plant grows and summer wears on, older leaves will dull, their color growing greener until fall, when the leaves turn bright red and orange and drop, leaving white waxy berries behind. Key to a poison ivy I.D., however, is that the middle leaf is symmetrical and on a longer stalk than the two side leaves, which are mirror images of one another but not symmetrical. Leaf edges are usually smooth, but can be toothed or lobed, the side leaves often resembling a mitten shape. Poison ivy vines will have hairy tendrils, but no poison ivy plant will have a prickly stem.

Look around, too: Poison ivy prefers field and forest edges and often co-exists with pine trees and jewelweed — the latter’s leaves, by the way, are a top-notch topical antidote to poison ivy’s itch.

Lynda Twardowski is Travel Editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.[email protected]

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