Unwelcome (Mostly) Poisons in the Garden

By Bill Primavera

Spring has sprung, and many who have gardens will be getting their green thumb ready to dig in the dirt. Others may just be enjoying being outdoors, but we must remember that not all of nature is people-friendly. Case in point: The itch of poison ivy or poison oak.

(Note: What is the difference, you might ask. Poison ivy generally has hairy, or fuzzy-looking, vines, looks similar to ivy and has smooth almond-shaped leaves. Poison oak, on the other hand, has leaves that look like oak leaves, is generally a duller green and has leaflets that have hair on both sides. Both, once contracted, can drive a person crazy.)

When I was a bachelor living in Manhattan, I had an acquaintance who would occasionally visit friends living in “the country” over the summer weekends. Maybe I was a little jealous about not knowing anybody outside the reaches of the steamy city because I found myself having little patience when he called me one day to complain at some length about having contracted a case of poison ivy in his friends’ garden during his last visit. I just didn’t want to pay much attention to his whining.

The next day he called again and this time he upbraided me for not showing any sympathy about his itchy plight. Instead of apologizing and showing some concern, I made the mistake of marginalizing his condition by saying that I had frequently had poison ivy before moving to the city and that, while I found it uncomfortable for a day or two, I would just address it by taking a hot shower, then treating it with calamine lotion. Was it really that big a deal, I asked? 

From there, the tone of the conversation degenerated rapidly when he asked, “Would it make any difference to you to know that I even have it on my (two crude words for male genitals)?” At that point, I couldn’t stifle an urge to laugh, but not before venturing a guess about what kind of activity might have brought that situation about. It was his response to that bit of careless banter that put me on notice that it was time for a very serious apology which I offered with great sincerity.

Not long after that incident many years ago, I married, moved to the country and since that time, have had countless opportunities to suffer the effects of poison ivy myself, regardless of the care I take in recognizing the plant and trying to avoid it. 

Living for some years on a property that had been gardened since the early 18th century, I had been aware that it was riddled with poison ivy, but I never did a thing to discourage its growth. Call me crazy, but I rather liked its dark waxy leaves growing on vines in the areas of my property that were not cultivated, and, from what I understand, although I don’t remember from which source, it may have served some useful purpose to bind together the mortarless stone walls our forefathers built to delineate properties and contain livestock.

About two out of three people are allergic to poison ivy and its relatives, poison oak and poison sumac. For some, the reaction can be severe enough to require hospitalization. Treatment for poison ivy is most effective if addressed immediately after exposure. Invariably I always got it on my wrists and lower arms. When I did, I would wash the affected area with strong soap and very hot water, and then apply calamine lotion for relief of the itching. Literature suggests applying rubbing alcohol, but I’ve never tried that. It is also suggested that clothing that has been worn when poison ivy has been contracted be washed separately from other laundry but, very honestly, I never found that it was that finicky an issue. Perhaps that would apply to individuals with extreme sensitivity to the allergens.

As a side note, I looked for anything that could justify God’s plan for placing something so nasty in Earth’s garden, if not in the Garden of Eden, and I found it!

According to a report in Weed Science and subsequently reported in The Wall Street Journal, poison ivy has gotten much nastier since the 1950s in leaf size and oil content, but at the same time, it was reported that the plant absorbs much more than its fair share of CO2 in the atmosphere. With CO2 having increased 33 percent in the environment in the past half century, poison ivy has risen to the challenge as Earth’s friend in helping to combat climate change. So, leave it stay, I say. There IS something to love about poison ivy!

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.