Scratching into the biology of poison ivy

Poison Ivy

This story is courtesy of our sister station WTHI in Terre Haute, IN.

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – “You can count the leaves, one two three, it’s not poison ivy,” explained Dr. Peter Coppinger, Rose-Hulman Biologist.

So “leaves of three let it be”, well not in this case, this is a perfectly harmless plant.

If you were hoping the color of poison ivy would be an indicator to step away, nope.

“One of these are darker and one is lighter so one of them must not be poison ivy. Well nope they both are. It has to do with their age,” said Coppinger.

What can you do to prevent yourself from getting poison ivy? Well let’s first learn what the cause of the reaction is.

“The reason poison ivy gives allergic rashes, is because it produces an oil that induces an allergic reaction,” explained Coppinger.

It’s the oil that causes the scratching and it doesn’t just spread from touching the actual plant. Here is where it gets tricky.

“It’s not just skin contact, they will walk through with pants or gloves. The oil is still on them, so if you touch that you can get it from that. Same thing with dogs, if they have the oil and then you love on them, you can get it,” taught Coppinger.

The best fix, a little suds in a bucket.

“Since the toxin is an oil in poison ivy, you can wash it off with soap and water but it has to be quickly,” said Coppinger.

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