Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Poison Ivy or Boxelder?

poison ivy
Poison Ivy (photo by JHY)
by JHY

"Leaves of three, let it be." How often has that little rhyme been used to remind us to avoid poison ivy in the woods. Of course that rule eliminates touching a lot of harmless plants such as strawberries, trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and others. So let's suppose that you are pretty good at separating the poison ivy from those. What is the trickiest plant to distinguish from poison ivy?

Many people think that it is the leaves of the boxelder tree. Compare the two pictures below:


poison ivy

Which one is which? Could you tell? (the boxelder is the top one) It can be very difficult, especially if both plants are very young. Surprise, the boxelder is actually a maple! It's leaves don't look anything like the more typical maple leaf shape, such as the Norway maple in the picture below.

poison ivy
Norway maple leaves (photo by JHY)

One key difference between the poison ivy and the boxelder is that the poison ivy will never grow into a tree. It can be a low herbaceous plant, a vine or a tall shrub, but if it becomes woody it will take the vine form, never a tree.

Another feature that can help distinguish the two is the color. When they are hardest to tell apart, when they are very young, the poison ivy is almost always a deep red. Look at the very first picture and look at the leaves at the tip of the plant. That is the color of small PI leaves in the spring. And notice how those top leaves are drooping? The early PI will also do that.

The young boxelder is usually a light yellow-green. It may have a reddish stem, but so may the PI, and the boxelder may also have droopy leaves. When they get larger, however, the boxelder stems will get a whitish bloom that rubs off, while the poison ivy stems will usually remain red.

Boxelder leaves
Boxelder leaves (photo by JHY)

Take some time this summer to work on sharpening your identification skills for poison ivy. It will take only one bad reaction to the plant to highly motivate you. Avoid the pain and learn to avoid the plant in the first place!

See Wild Parsnip - Another Wild Plant to Avoid
See More About Wild Parsnip
See Avoid Giant Hogweed - Severe Skin Reactions
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1 comment:

Julia said...

Cool that poison ivy has some of the same characteristics as poison oak with the red tinge. I managed to pick between the two and get it right.

Send me back east. I am ready. Or so I think...

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