Gardening Articles: Health :: Health

Leaves of Three (page 2 of 2)

by Suzanne DeJohn

Prevention

There are products touted as poison ivy preventatives. I can't vouch for them because I haven't tried them. Most entail rubbing a lotion on your skin, either to act as a barrier to urushiol or to indicate when you've been exposed so you can wash immediately. Because I weed for a few minutes here and there several times a day, I don't think these would be a practical choice for me. But if you weed for hours at a time, they might bear looking into.

Eradication

When talking about weeds I usually use the term "manage" as opposed to "eradicate." Weeds are nature's way of quickly covering barren ground, protecting soil from wind erosion and compaction by heavy rains. Poison ivy is different. I want to eradicate it from my yard. If any plant could be called sneaky and spiteful, it would be poison ivy. It's everywhere in our yard -- even crouching down in the lawn, ready to pounce on unprotected toes. If you need to get rid of poison ivy in a small area, you can try smothering it by covering the area with newspapers or cardboard and a thick layer of mulch. You'll have to keep an eye on it to make sure the vines don't find a way out. If you're not allergic you can try pulling young vines with gloved hands, but know that repeated exposure can lead to an allergic response even if you've never had one before. Poison ivy holds the honor as the only plant I'll treat with glyphosate herbicide. I can't smother it because the vines are everywhere, and I'd likely end up in the hospital if I tried. I certainly can't pull it out. Used judiciously, glyphosate herbicide is probably the safest treatment. If it seems like there's more poison ivy around than ever before, you may be right. Poison ivy prefers "edge habitats" -- disturbed areas near woodlands. With development reaching further and further into previously wooded areas, poison ivy is finding a perfect niche where civilization meets wilderness. Other woody weeds, such as Japanese honeysuckle, are also thriving. The proliferation of poison ivy may be yet another negative impact of global warming. Duke University researchers conducted a six-year study using growth chambers to assess the impact of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (a leading cause of global warming) on poison ivy growth. They discovered that higher carbon dioxide levels increased photosynthesis, water use efficiency, and growth of poison ivy -- more so than for other woody plants. And the plants produce an even more toxic form of urushiol under these conditions, too. When it comes to the impact on my everyday life, the other ramifications of global warming -- melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels -- are relatively remote. The threat of more vigorous and more toxic poison ivy really hits home.
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