Expressing a love of history and a passion for nature.
In Praise of Poison Ivy
As a science writer, I’m fascinated by plants and animals that are unloved—like dandelions, tarantulas, and what is perhaps the world’s most hated plant—poison ivy.
Millions of people are allergic to poison ivy, which contains one of the most potent toxins on earth. But the astounding paradox is that poison ivy is a plant of immense ecological value. It’s a plant of a powerful plant with a dramatic history and an increasingly important role in the American landscape. For me, poison ivy has served as a lens through which to take a closer look at the green world, and the changes and challenges that face our planet.
Leaflets Three, Let it Be!: The Story of Poison Ivy is a children’s picture book, designed to help the youngest outdoor explorers both appreciate and avoid poison ivy.
In Praise of Poison Ivy is a nonfiction book for adults, which explores the vices and virtues of a powerful plant with a dramatic history and an increasingly important role in the American landscape.
Wild mammals from mice to moose, honeybees and butterflies, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, robins, and bluebirds all defy poison ivy’s nasty nature and feast on its leaves and fruit. Cardinals are even known to line their nests with fuzzy poison ivy rootlets.
Poison ivy and humans have long had a passionate love/hate affair. This book follows the trail of poison ivy as it encounters an engaging cast of historical characters, including explorers, scientists, entrepreneurs and royalty—who all learned about poison ivy the hard way. Despite its irritating qualities, the magnificent scarlet-and-gold autumn foliage of poison ivy has been showcased in the gardens of presidents and kings.
The book includes informational sidebars on identifying poison ivy, how to cope with that insanely itchy rash, and “green” methods of coping with the plant.
Leaflets Three, Let it Be!: The Story of Poison Ivy
A book about poison ivy? Anita Sanchez writes of the surprising virtues of the despised plant in her new children’s book, published by Boyds Mills Press.
Beautiful illustrations by Robin Brickman highlight the amazing variety of wildlife that use poison ivy for food and shelter. And no, they don’t get itchy–only humans are affected by the toxic three leaves. Bees buzz in poison ivy flowers, gathering poison ivy nectar. Cardinals use poison ivy rootlets to line their nests. Insects roll themselves up in a snug blanket of poison ivy leaves while toads hunt and spiders spin webs in the shade. And birds by the dozens come flocking to a poison ivy feast of winter berries.
Anita’s other published books include Mr. Lincoln’s Chair: The Shakers and Their Quest for Peace, The Invasion of Sandy Bay, and The Teeth of the Lion: The Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion.
That’s where life shoves through, grows to the sun, flourishes.
I stop every time I’m in a parking lot, a schoolyard, a graveyard–anywhere–and see what plants are growing. There’s unintended beauty in the untended places. I look to see what’s pushing through the cracks in the pavement. What the mowers have missed. What the weed whackers have failed to whack.
So come on this journey with me. Examine and rejoice in that which no one else notices.
Stop by often to see what’s going on in the parking lot! Read Unmowed Blog posts here.
A published author and professional educator, Anita Sanchez has more than twenty years of experience in providing classes and hands-on, participatory programs to a wide range of audiences.
The former director of Educational Programming at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, she has presented classes in schools throughout New England and New York State, and given workshops at the American Museum of Natural History, Colonial Williamsburg, Harvard Natural History Museum, the New York State Museum, and many other libraries, bookstores, museums, and classrooms.
Poison ivy. An amazingly versatile plant, it does indeed grow just about everywhere. Beaches. Forests. Bayous. Even in Manhattan’s Central Park.
Honey locust, in Manhattan’s Central Park, has thorns. Big thorns. Not just little prickers, great huge whomping thorns, six inches long and iron hard.
As John Adams put it, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
Putting up a bird bath, and keeping it clean and full is one of the nicest things you can do for birds in summer. Pigeons take the plunge!
I wouldn’t trade my swimming hole (Schoharie Creek) for a thousand pools with turquoise water. I’ll take the smell of river mud over chlorine any day.
Birdsfoot trefoil. You probably see it on every summer’s day. It’s the froth of little yellow blossoms that line roadways and pop out of sidewalk cracks.
A fiddlehead isn’t a type of fern–fiddlehead simply means a young fern. There are fiddleheads you can eat, and then there are ones you shouldn’t fiddle with.
The thing about spring greens is that you have to catch them early. Before the flowers arrive. Once you see the flowers, it’s too late–all that tender sweetness is gone. Think of lettuce bolting. Once the plant flowers, the leaves change from a tasty, crunchy mouthful to a bitter pill to swallow.
What does poison ivy look like in spring? A little like a traffic light—red and shiny. Poison ivy’s first leaflets are garnet red, which slowly fades to green.
In Praise of Poison Ivy explores the vices and virtues of a plant with a dramatic history–and a rosy future. Once planted in gardens from Versailles to Monticello, poison ivy now has a crucial role in the American landscape.
Rudyard Kipling designed his house, Naulakha, to ride the Vermont hills like a ship on a wave. Here he wrote the Jungle Books and the beloved Just So Stories.
The sub-alpine birch forest, in Abisko National Park in the northernmost part of Sweden, above the Arctic Circle. Last fall, I happened to visit at a rare time of sunshine, and in the low rays of the autumn light the leaves were pure gold.