Poison ivy is feared, respected, and most of all, avoided. But new evidence shows that the beast of the wild is getting stronger, tougher and decidedly angrier. NPR reports on a highly developed poison ivy that is spreading through our forests. And like Frankenstein’s monster, this disaster is one of man’s making.
Poison ivy is already known as a devilish detail of outdoor life. Its venom is urushiol oil. Only 1 nanogram of urushiol oil — a billionth of a gram — is needed to cause a reaction. The oil stays active for one to five years on a dead plant. The term “poison ivy” was first coined by Captain John Smith is 1609. Allergy to the plant is the most common, meaning up to 90 percent of people are allergic.
Clearly, poison ivy doesn’t mess around. New evidence shows that it is getting stronger. Dr. Lewis Ziska is a plant physiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. As Ziska told NPR, the plant is spreading and it’s getting more vicious. The same is true for poison oak and sumac.
Why is this happening? One of the reasons is the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to greenhouse gases. According to Ziska, “One of the things that we think is occurring is that as carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere — carbon dioxide, as everyone knows, is a basic greenhouse gas, but it's also plant food. And plants take that carbon, and they convert it into sugars and carbohydrates and so forth.”
Poison ivy likes carbon dioxide, and we are feeding it to the plant in abundance.
The result is that the planet harbors more poison ivy and stronger versions of it. If you live in an area rimmed by forest, you’re going to get a larger exposure. As forests are cut down, the forest floor is exposed to more sunlight — another characteristic that fuels poison ivy growth. More people means more carbon dioxide — and now, more monster rashes.
The only way to fight the new super plant is to wash with soap and water immediately after contact. According to Ziska, the urushiol oil is absorbed into your skin in as little as eight to 10 minutes. Once it's on your skin, there’s not much you can do except suffer through the rash. Keep an eye out for the three-leaved culprit — as the saying goes, “leaves of three, let them be.” And keep your soap and water handy.