I’ve had a long relationship with PI – Poison Ivy. One of my parents is very allergic, so my early awareness was less than relaxed. I react to the oils on PI’s leaves, vines and trunks, though not quite as badly as others. Still, I avoid it, and use Technu to clean off the oils after yardwork.
We live in the Garden State. Everything grows here. Everything. That means PI too, very well in fact. PI likes sun. It thrives in meadows, and suburban gardens. Its berries are favored by birds. Find a place where birds perch, and you’ll often find PI growing below.
It also has an interesting relationship with trees, especially those along the edges of open areas. PI and its cousins are often small ivy like bushes, and bush like ivies. But when attached to a tree it takes on a whole new supersized life. There the vines rise up 30, sometimes 50’ high. On trees, its little vines grow monstrously thick- up to 5 inches – and sprout lots of little roots all along. Side branch vines cantilever out 10, sometimes 15’ – quite the embrace if you’re not looking where you walk. They take advantage of the sun on the lower part of the trunk where branches have broken off with age. It’s an interesting relationship, using the branchless lower part of a tree. Some types of trees I’ve noticed typically have PI growing up them, others rarely.
The vines rising up trees still need the sunlight, so they tend to climb trees near open spaces –meadows, or rivers. It’s easy enough to avoid the trees with PI on the side of a river. The trees that are vertical that is.
Early on my first day I can across a fallen tree that covered the entire river. There was a spot that I thought I could pass through. It looked like a recent tree fall as the leaves were still full. Then I noticed vines that the leaves were growing from and their telltale little roots. Back paddle! Back Paddle! I just missed going through a gauntlet of PI. I portaged around, stepping carefully on grass and avoiding the smaller PI clumps. This came up again a few times later on, and I just had to be careful.
It also made for a challenge when finding a campsite. Proper campsites make efforts to remove PI. But along the river I was going to simply find a space for the night. This turns out to be harder with PI, as the open grass and meadow areas that looked attractive have lots of the stuff. All worked out in the end, and despite a lot of exposure I had no PI outbreaks when I returned from my trip.
So while I have concerns about PI, I have also grown to have a (grudging) respect for it as well. It adapts to various NJ conditions and spreads around with its berries. But the part that I think is missing is how much I sense it has expanded since human cultivation of the land. Our state was once heavily forested. You could say it is nature’s revenge for our expansion and cutting down the once great canopies. Or you could say it’s like a set of brakes, weak ones, on our expansion, maybe it’s just a reminder of what we’ve done. There’s more to understand here about Poison Ivy. Though perhaps from a distance!