• Keeping Poison Ivy at Arm’s Length

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    Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
    Mass Audubon works to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. Together with more than 100,000 members, we care for 35,000 acres of conservation land, provide school, camp, and other educational programs for 225,000 children and adults annually, and advocate for sound environmental policies at local, state, and federal levels.
    Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

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    By Jeanette Kerr

    “You’re gonna need an ocean Of calamine lotion…”

    Poison Ivy, The Drifters, 1959

    Itchy PI rash on the upper arm

    There are two warnings we always give to sanctuary visitors: do regular tick checks and stay on the trails to avoid poison ivy.

    Poison ivy 2Managing poison ivy requires constant vigilance during the growing season. The job of controlling it falls to our property manager, James Nielsen, who has shared some of his tips for avoiding the infamous rash that can result from coming in contact with an oil in the plant called urushiol.

    James wears long pants, two pairs of gloves, seals the top of the gloves and his shirt sleeves with duct tape, then hopes for the best. When he’s done, clothes go right into the washer and shoes stay outside. Poison ivy oil can remain active for more than a year. James also recommends limiting removal to dry, mild days. Wet or hot weather, he says, can increase the chance of spreading oil to the skin.

    Poison ivyPoison ivy can take on several different forms– a ground cover, a climbing vine or a shrub. The “leaves of three” adage is correct, but the warning about shiny leaves is not always true. And its color can change from spring to fall. There have also been studies that say PI may become more rampant and virulent with the increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere.

    On the plus side, poison ivy is a native plant that many animals eat without any adverse effects. Goats apparently even enjoy eating poison ivy although there is a risk of the animals passing the oil on to their caretakers just as pets can do if the oil gets on their fur.

    June 30, 2014