The Joys and Dangers of a Walk in the Woods
One of the things I love about summer in Michigan is the lush greenery and abundance of wild berries. If you’ve had a chance to stroll through the Mitten State’s fields and woodlands, you’ve probably come across wild blackberries or raspberries. They even grow in the woodlot adjacent to my backyard, so I pick them regularly in June and July.
One problem with going into the “wild” for fruit to top your morning cereal or evening bowl of ice cream is that other plants grow out there too. The one menace that you need to watch out for is poison ivy. Botanically known as toxicodendron radicans, this is one nasty plant. If you brush up against the leaves, it secretes an oil onto your skin. If you don’t wash it off within a few minutes, it will get inside your skin and create blisters which are uncomfortable and itchy. If you scratch the sores, this will spread the infected fluid across your skin, increasing the size (and crazy-making) of the rash.
Mmm, blackberries! (ripe: black/purple, unripe: red) photo: A.Headbloom
With this danger in mind, here are some pointers when you go looking for wild berries.
- Look down. Assume there is poison ivy somewhere nearby. If you discover not, count yourself lucky.
- This may sound redundant, but if you are stepping off a pathway into a field or woodlot, there could be poison ivy growing there.
- Memorize the shape and color of poison ivy. Once your eyes are trained, you can easily spot (and avoid) it.
- If you know you’re going into the woods, wear shoes, socks, and long pants.
- If you discover you’ve walked through a patch of poison ivy, wash as soon as you get home. Likewise, launder the clothing.
- If you notice a rash, go to the drug store immediately and get a topical medication for the affected areas. If you start itching, resist the urge to scratch it. (This is easier said than done.)
Features: cluster of three leaves, leaves usually have 1-5 serrations per side, intersection of three leaves is reddish (leaves turn orange-red in fall), plant spreads through vines, which can also climb up trees
Distinguishing similar plants
Note: there are similar looking plants which are not dangerous but grow in the same regions. Virginia creeper is also a vine with a reddish intersection of the leaf stems, but the leaves are clustered in groups of five. Box elder has three leaves shaped very similarly to poison ivy, but this is a tree (growing upright) and is not a creeping/climbing vine.
poison ivy (close-up) photo: A.Headbloom
box elder (a tree, not poison ivy) photo: Wikipedia
Virginia creeper (5 leaves, not poison ivy) photo: A.Headbloom
Now that I’ve made you completely paranoid, enjoy your walk in the woods! Happy berry-picking, everyone!