How to Identify, Prevent & Remove
You want to spend your time picking tomatoes and munching on beans from your garden. The last thing you want is a painful, unrelenting rash that pushes you to the brink of insanity! Learning how to identify poison ivy and then eliminate it will be time well spent.
Video: Poison Ivy -Identify-Prevent-Remove
THE TOUGH GUY: Do you know one of those guys who brags about his "immunity to poison ivy"? It's as though his immune system is so robust that it fights off all those poison ivy toxins, leaving him rash free and full of machismo. Little does he realize that those rashes caused by poison ivy are in fact a type of immune response.
When the poisonous sap (urushiol) binds to skin cells, our body's T-cells initiate an immune response. The result is a form of contact dermatitis caused by allergic reaction. People who react when exposed to urushiol have been sensitized to it. Some people have greater degrees of sensitivity than others. That variable, along with the amount and duration of exposure, can cause a broad range of reactions.
To further complicate things. A person's level of sensitivity can increase over time. Repeated exposure often results in higher levels of sensitivity. So it's best to avoid ANY exposure, regardless of how tough you think you are.
"LEAVES OF THREE, LET IT BE." That little rhyme can certainly get you started in the identification process. Poison ivy leaves are comprised of three individual leaflets, never more. But lots of other plants have leaves of three, as shown below. So you need to learn some of the subtle traits as well.
GLOSSY / SHINY LEAVES? Don't obsess over glossy leaves, expecting poison ivy to be coated in oil. Young tender leaves may be shiny and slightly red. But mature leaves often lack that gloss that an uninformed person might expect.
JAGGED LEAFLETS / THORNS? The edges of the leaves should never look jagged or serrated, as you'll find with raspberries. Instead, they should be fairly smooth with slight lobes, especially on the two outer leaflets. Additionally, poison ivy never has thorns.
HAIRY ROOTS? Poison ivy is a vine and will grow hairy roots along the stem if given the opportunity. But it will also grow easily along the ground, with little evidence of vine-like growth. There is one consistent trait that will help you though.
ALTERNATING LEAF GROWTH: As you look along the primary trunk or branch, you will see leaves stemming from each side. From the left, then the right, then left and so on. These leaves are never directly across from each other. Instead, they alternate. This characteristic allows you to quickly tell poison ivy apart from young box elder trees. See the photos below.
Once you know what it looks like, you'll be amazed at how many places it pops up. I see it all through my neighborhood. Spotting it has become a little game for me.
Now that you have a trained eye, you know exactly what to look for. This can help you when you are walking in the woods. And it will also assist you in your home yard or garden. Quick identification can lead to prompt removal. This is the key to avoiding needless misery later on.
SMALL SCALE: Removing small poison ivy plants is easy and certainly the best time to do it. It's easiest if you don't mess with it on a windy day. Keep all parts of the plant off of your skin, including the roots. Try to keep it off of your clothes. Wear gloves that are completely impervious.
For tiny weeds, I just wear brand new disposable latex / vinyl gloves. I avoid using any tools. As I pull each plant, I carefully place it in a plastic grocery bag. Then once all plants are pulled, I tie off the plastic bag. Next I carefully remove the gloves, placing them in a 2nd bag which is also used to double-bag the 1st one. Finally I tie off the 2nd bag and dispose of it in the trash.
MEDIUM SCALE: As weeds get bigger, you may need more muscle and more tools to get the job done. Tugging on bigger weeds could tear latex gloves. You could try wearing some cheap leather gloves over top of latex gloves. Then any oil that seeps through the outer glove won't reach your hands. Once you're done, the oil will persist, so I would throw away both pairs of gloves. For sure, you need to wear long sleeve shirts and pants. Use a trash bag and put the poison ivy directly into bags that get tied up.
LARGE SCALE: If your poison ivy plants are really big, I would seriously consider hiring a professional!
Do not walk in the house with your shoes on. Take off your garments and put them directly into the washing machine (with no other garments) washing thoroughly in warm water. Very thoroughly, you need to wash your hands and arms under cool soapy water. The quicker you can do this the better. (Hot water opens your pores and makes oil absorption more likely).
Assume that your gloves are covered in oil. Anything you touched while wearing them will be too. All tools like shovels and rakes need to be cleaned up. Handle them with a fresh pair of rubber gloves and wipe them down with rubbing alcohol. This will break down the oil. Wipe the soles of your boots or shoes with alcohol too.
USE CAUTION: Do NOT burn the poison ivy! The fumes are highly toxic. Don't compost it. You can spray poison ivy with weed-killer, but that won't destroy the urushiol oil. It remains active even in dead plants. So use extreme caution with this method. Do not mow over poison ivy. Never use a trimmer or weed wacker on poison ivy. The oil will spray all over the place, on your clothes, skin and tools. You will be sorry...
USDA: Plant Database Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans (L.) Kuntze)
FDA: Outsmarting Poison Ivy and Other Poisonous Plants
CDC: Fast Facts Protecting Yourself from Poisonous Plants
AAD: Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: Who gets a rash, and is it contagious?