Poison Ivy

We've all probably heard the expression.  "Leaves of three, let it be."  The expression refers to poison ivy, and a run-in with this plant can be an unpleasant experience.

The leaves and stems of poison ivy contain an irritating oil that can cause a rash or blisters on affected skin.  The rash may appear within a day or two of contact, and can last up to two weeks.

It's interesting to note that some people are extremely sensitive to poison ivy, and others seem to march through the stuff with little or no effect.  Reactions range from minor itching and mild rashes to severe blistering.

In any event, it's worth learning to recognize the plant.  It generally grows as a low ground cover, and as the expression indicates, it has clusters of leaflets in groups of three.  The edges of the leaflets have irregular "teeth."

To complicate matters, poison ivy doesn't always grow as a low ground cover - it can also look like a medium sized shrub or even in rare cases like a vine growing up trees or rock faces.

The leaves are reddish or burgundy coloured when they first appear in the spring, then turn shiny green during the summer, and by the fall, can be bright red or yellow like the plant in the photograph above.


Wash area of contact with strong soap and water as soon as possible to remove oils which adhere to skin.

Calamine lotion, compresses containing milk, baking soda and water mix are all purported to reduce swelling and itching.

Poison Ivy Trivia

Aboriginal peoples dried poison ivy leaves and fruit and added them to fire pits which were lit when an enemy was approaching.  Burning poison ivy releases its poisonous toxin as tiny droplets which are carried through the air on ashes and dust particles.

Many birds including grouse, wild turkey, woodpeckers and chickadees eat the fruit of the poison ivy plant with no ill-effects.

Rubbing the affected skin area with crushed jewelweed leaves and flowers is an Ojibway folk remedy that seems to work for some people