In Praise of Poison Ivy

Posted by on Mar 31, 2016 in poison ivy, Unmowed Blog | 0 comments

Yes, indeed. As if one book on poison ivy weren’t enough, I’ve been working on another—an adult nonfiction book. More than you ever wanted to know about poison ivy!cover--in praise of poison ivy--sanchez

Why? Why an entire book about such a vicious plant, that gives itches and rashes to millions? The astounding paradox is that poison ivy is a plant of immense ecological value. In Praise of Poison Ivy explores the vices and virtues of a plant with a dramatic history–and a rosy future.

For centuries, poison ivy has bedeviled, inconvenienced, and downright tortured the human race. This book covers the unique history of the plant, starting with the brash and adventurous explorer Captain John Smith, who “discovered” poison ivy the hard way in 1607. Despite its irritating qualities, the magnificent scarlet-and-gold autumn foliage lured Virginia entrepreneurs to export the vine to Europe, making it one of the earliest documented New World plants to cross the Atlantic, and its meteoric rise to fame as–of all unlikely things—a garden plant. Showcased in the pleasure grounds of emperors and kings, poison ivy was displayed like a captive tiger, admired by Thomas Jefferson, Marie Antoinette, and Josephine Bonaparte.poison ivy red in spring

Today, poison ivy is an important plant for wildlife as well as for soil conservation. Poison ivy leaves are an important wildlife food, and the berries are a great source of winter nutrition for beloved bird species like robins, bluebirds and cardinals, especially at the end of winter when sweeter food is hard to find.

In Praise of Poison Ivy also explores the question of why this plant is apparently on a mission to give us humans grief, from itchy ankles to life-threatening medical emergencies. Why does poison ivy target humans with such unerring accuracy? I will also attempt to explain the mystery of why a privileged few are immune to its itchy consequences.

The culprit is a chemical called urushiol, found throughout the plant from leaves to roots. This book examines the reasons why urushiol is considered to be “one of the most potent external toxins we know” according to Dr. William Epstein, a University of California dermatologist who estimates that one ounce of urushiol would be enough to give a rash to thirty million people. A plant, I feel, worth studying.

poison ivy

I hope you’ll take a look! And in case you’re wondering, I am not immune to poison ivy…

 

 

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