ACROSS WNY- A hike in the outdoors is a peaceful and beautiful experience, but it always pays to know your surroundings. There are a lot of things in the environment that can cause harm if one is not careful,and many of these organisms are hiding in plain sight, so awareness is key.
Poison Ivy is a perfect example. Dave McQuay of NY State Parks says the plant is abundant throughout the region, and learning to identify it is a must for anyone spending time outdoors." They always say leaves of three let it be, and often Poison Ivy takes on different forms, it can be a small plant, it can be shrub like, or it can vine up trees.If it vines up, you want to look for the hairy roots going to the bark, usually brown in color."
Coming in contact with the plant is not fun. Damaging the leaves or stem releases an oily compound called Urishiol which can cause a serious rash on those who are allergic to it. " The oil leaches out of the leaves" says McQuay " and absorbs through the seven layers of your skin, your body reacts to that,and it actually causes inflammation and your body produces a rash if you're allergic to."
Native to North America,the plant has been thriving for centuries. Throughout the years, Poison Ivy has been both bane and benefit to different cultures. McQuay explains." One of the first infections a European got in North America was Captain James Cook coming down with a case of Poison Ivy. Native Americans used it, they had different ways to develop immunity,they would use the flexible vines to make baskets, in California they would smoke salmon with the skewers made from Poison Ivy."
As nasty as it can be to the human species, McQuay says the exact opposite is true with many animals. " Over sixty species of birds ingest the berries, Black Bears, White Tail Deer, rabbits and muskrat love to eat the seeds . Woodpeckers, warblers and thrushes relish the berries, so it is used by wildlife."
Poison Ivy also is beneficial to the environment in other ways, so eradication is not feasible. Unfortunately, studies have found that due in part to climate change, the toxic oil that can cause so much damage is also becoming more potent. " With the increased levels of carbons in the air, the Poison Ivy is becoming five percent stronger in Urishiol oil, which will cause the rash. McQuay continues " Poison Ivy is definitely getting stronger as our environment changes and warms."
All of this information is not meant to terrify, only to educate. As with much of our environment, knowledge goes far to keep from turning a hike in the woods to trip to the hospital. " Learn to identify it, learn to avoid it like you would a poisonous snake, it shouldn't stop you from going out there and enjoying the great outdoors, and be aware on sunny edges and stream banks and things it can grow there, and that's a spot you really want to watch for it."