Spending time outside? Here is how to identify and get rid of poison ivy

Richard Evans is the agriculture and natural resources agent for Bryan/Liberty County Cooperative Extension. Reach him at 912-653-2231 or uge3029@uga.edu (Bryan County) or 912-876-2133/uge3179@uga.edu (Liberty County)

During the summer months, we find ourselves outside, hiking, exploring and getting our yards in shape. In many cases, this will put you in contact with poison ivy.

Poison ivy (a vine form), and its closely related relative, poison oak (shrub-like form) are common poisonous plants in Georgia.

Poison ivy is the cause of thousands of cases of contact dermatitis (redness, rash, blisters, itching). Anybody working outdoors or involved in some activity outdoors needs to know what poison ivy looks like.

Poison ivy is often found growing up trees or fence posts. The leaves are alternately arranged, and each compound leaf consists of three bright green shiny leaflets.

Leaflets are elliptical shapes and have either toothed or lobed margins with reddish coloring in the small stems between the leaflets. Often poison ivy is misidentified when someone sees a plant with an unusual leaf. It is best to follow the old saying "leaflets of three, let it be."

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

All parts of the plant (stems, roots, flowers, fruit) are poisonous at all times of the year.

The toxic chemical in the leaves is called urushiol. People are often exposed when they brush against the plant and bruise the leaves.

Some people are highly allergic to it, while others have a greater resistance to the toxin. It can also be spread by equipment, clothing or animals that have come in contact with the plant.

Using a weed eater to remove poison ivy will result in spraying your legs with poison ivy. If you are bare-legged and get scratches while splattered with sap from poison ivy, you may be headed to the emergency room. The toxin can also be carried in smoke from burning poison ivy.

It usually takes 12 to 48 hours for symptoms to appear. If contact with the plant is suspected, wash the affected area with cold water. Warm water and soap will help the toxin spread under the skin.

Only the toxin can spread the rash, not the fluid contained in the blisters. There are many ointments and lotions to help treat the rash and the blisters. For more severe cases, consult a physician.

Several methods exist for controlling poison ivy. Continual cutting, tillage or mowing poison ivy will eventually get rid of it. Digging out the poison ivy plants from the roots is effective, especially in beds of ornamental plants. When doing this, always wear the necessary protective gloves (waterproof) and long sleeve shirts. Wash all clothes thoroughly.

Poison ivy can also be controlled by the application of herbicides (weed killers).

Because poison ivy has an extensive root system, several applications may be necessary for effective control. Two herbicides that are effective for the control of poison ivy are glyphosate (Roundup) and Triclopyr (Brush-be-gone). For best results, apply these herbicides on warm, sunny days to actively growing plants.

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Be extremely careful in spraying around desirable plants because misapplication and wind drift could harm them as well. These herbicides are non-selective, meaning that they will cause damage to most any plant material they come in contact with.

If you have some particularly large vines is can be effective to sever the vine at the base and fasten a cotton ball soaked with herbicide to the open wound. As with any pesticide, follow the directions on the label and use extreme caution when using them.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Spending time outside? Here is how to identify and get rid of poison ivy