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Never Be Too Careful

My first rule of thumb for working in the garden is learning to identify what is poisonous.   Luckily, most snakes in this temperate climate are non-poisonous.  I already know spiders and centipedes can cause pain.  However when it comes to plants and fungi in this climate, I still need to learn more about them.

I learned to identify poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) early on, the three shiny leaves.  I can even pick out the seedlings that are slightly different since the leaves are more serrated and I have been pulling them out ever since.  It’s a lot easier to get rid of poison Ivy when the plants are small than when they are creeping up a tree.   All parts of this weed are toxic, even in winter.  I have been very careful handling them and have gotten away with it for many years.

This summer was different.  With gloves and two layers of plastic bags over that, I still got it on my arm.  It was pretty itchy and blistered for a few days.  I wrapped the area up to prevent myself from touching other parts of my body by mistake.  But that was a mistake. The blister stayed puffed up without drying out so it took longer for the poison to dissipate.   Once I broke the blisters and let them dry out during the day, it was gone in a few days.

However common Poison Ivy is in this area, many people still don’t really know what it looks like.  My colleagues asked me to take photographs to show them, so I decided to post this one.  I hope it helps those who still don’t know what it looks like and how to deal with it if you are accidentally afflicted.

Once doesn’t make me an expert, but a little personal experience may help those who never had it and got it by mistake, hence the following tips:

  • Use protection, plastic bags or a couple layers of latex gloves are the best.  Don’t use gloves that aren’t waterproof; oil from the leaves can get though as well.
  • Throw the gloves out when you’re finished.  Make sure not to touch your skin when you remove them.  This was my case, just a little touch when I was trying to remove a glove.
  • Don’t scratch the itchy area because that will spread it.
  • Don’t cover it up 24 hours a day.  That was another dumb thing I did.  Covering it at night should be enough to prevent you from scratching it or touching other parts of your body while you’re sleeping.  Covering it all the time doesn’t let the toxin leach out, so it takes longer to heal as a result.
  • Don’t pat dry the effected area with the towel that you dry your body with, or you’ll spread it all over yourself.  Use a different towel or, better yet, paper towels.
  • Calamine lotion seems to work better than anything else on the pharmacy shelves I found.

And my head bows to those who are fortunate enough to not be allergic.  Here are some photos to help in identification for those of us who still have to deal with the itch.

  • Poison Ivy growing next to non-toxic Ivy

    Lovely fall color, but still toxic