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Beware poison ivy when hiking around Trail

Signs and symptoms of a poison ivy rash include: redness; itching; swelling; and blisters
Brenda Haley, an avid hiker in the Trail area and beyond, warns there is lots of poison ivy on the “Rusty Chainsaw,” a hiking path on the bluffs above Trail. Photo: Brenda Haley

There is an abundance of poison ivy on hiking trails around the West Kootenay, so knowing how to identify the plant and signs of contamination is helpful for those who like to explore the backcountry.

What is poison ivy?

Poison ivy rash is caused by an allergic reaction to an oily resin called urushiol (u-ROO-she-ol). This oily resin is in the leaves, stems and roots of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.

Wash your skin right away if you come into contact with this oil, unless you know you’re not sensitive to it. Washing off the oil may reduce your chances of getting a poison ivy rash. If you develop a rash, it can be very itchy and last for weeks.

You can treat mild cases of poison ivy rash at home with soothing lotions and cool baths. You may need prescription medication for a rash that’s severe or widespread, especially if it’s on your face or genitals.

Signs and symptoms of a poison ivy rash include: redness; itching; swelling; and blisters.

The severity of the rash depends on the amount of urushiol that gets on your skin.

What does poison ivy look like?

The leaves of poison ivy have three pointed leaflets. The middle leaflet has a much longer stalk than the two side ones. The leaflet edges can be smooth or toothed, but are rarely lobed. The leaves vary greatly in size, from eight millimetres (mm) to 55 mm. They are reddish when they appear in the spring, turn green during the summer, and become various shades of yellow, orange, or red in the fall.

The plant stems are woody and of two kinds. The most common kind grows as a trailing vine, with upright leafy stalks 10 to 80 centimetres (four to 31.5 inches) high.

The second kind is an aerial vine that may climb from six to 10 metres high on trees, posts, or rough surfaces.

The plant produces clusters of cream to yellow-green flowers during the months of June and July. The berries that appear by September are clustered, round, waxy, and green to yellow in colour. The size of the berries ranges from three to seven mm in diameter, and they often remain on the low, leafless stems of the plant all winter.

How to avoid poison ivy rash?

In short, wear protective clothing.

When working in or near poison ivy, always wear gloves and protective clothing to make sure that no area of your skin is exposed to the sap of the plant. Poison ivy sap can stick for long periods to clothing, tools, and the coats of pets and livestock. Under hot, humid conditions, the sap becomes inactive in about a week. Under dry conditions, it can retain its harmful effect for as long as one year or more.

Any clothing worn while working in or near poison ivy should be carefully removed, washed in hot, soapy water, and hung outside to dry for several days. Remember to wear gloves while handling objects that may be contaminated. Do not wash clothing suspected of having sap on it with other laundry, to avoid any further contamination. You may need to repeat washing to get all the sap off.

Interesting facts

Poison ivy belongs to the same plant family as the trees producing the mango and the cashew nut.

Urushiol oil is so potent that only one nanogram (billionth of a gram) is needed to cause a rash.

No animal can get a rash from poison ivy, but they can get the urushiol oil on their fur.

Goats and other grazers eat poison ivy, and birds eat the seeds.

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Sheri Regnier

About the Author: Sheri Regnier

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