Recent Weather Trends Making Poison Ivy Worse

July 30, 2013

The wet summer is causing several weeds and vines to grow more quickly than normal, including poison ivy. And research suggests that climate change may be making the plants bigger and more toxic.

The Cogill family, from Charlottesville, was enjoying a nice walk on the Monticello Trail on Tuesday, when 9-year-old Ada saw some poison ivy and warned her brother.

"Sid was about to walk right through it," Ada said. "So I pointed it out to him, 'Sid there's a patch of poison ivy that you're about to walk through!'"

Ada's had it before, so she knows why it is important to avoid.

"I hate being itchy like that," Ada said. "And having to scratch it because it's too itchy."

Charlottesville's trails planner, Chris Gensic, is noticing it more.

"It's been a really good year for plants to grow," Gensic said. "So we're seeing the poison ivy growing a little faster than it normally does."

At times, the poison ivy is right near the walking trail. Gensic pointed to several examples in Quarry Park and Riverview Park. Gensic says park officials focus on clearing it from trails and baseball fields, but they can't get rid of all of it.

"There's also whole areas where it could be in there and we're not just going to chemical bomb the whole area," Gensic said.

Scientists say climate change could be making it worse. A study from the National Academy of Sciences says poison ivy especially feasts on rising carbon dioxide, making it grow faster and more toxic.

"Best thing you can do is know what the plant is and avoid it," Gensic said.

Ada's 5-year-old brother, Sid, knows some rhymes that can help out with that.

"Leaves of three, let them be," Sid said. "Hairy vine, no friend of mine."

The plant is distinguished by its shiny leaves in a pattern of three, and a red, hairy vine that it uses to scale trees.

But it can also come in contact with humans through other ways, like pets.

"I definitely do see it this year a lot more," said Sammy Swale, who runs Sammy's Dogwalking Service in Charlottesville. He has to be careful that the pets don't take the toxic poison ivy oils back to their owners.

"Dogs brushing up against it, playing in it, running in it, and just walking through it," Swale said. "Then you put your hands and arms on it of course because the dog rubs up against you."

Swale keeps the dogs away from trails to avoid coming into contact with poison ivy. He also protects himself by always wearing long pants.

"It's very painful, and I don't want it on my legs," Swale said.

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