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Avoiding this Summer’s Itch

The weather sure is starting to feel like summer! This means a lot of us are itching to get outside and under the canopy of the forest to beat the heat while exploring the outdoors. There are plenty of amazing things to discover and learn about while walking through the woods at The Parklands. And while we value our visitors being good environmental stewards by carrying out all belongings and trash during your time, we do not want you to leave with extra, unwanted gifts from the forest. Therefore, here is a guide to avoid that one important plant that no one wants to run into and leave with… poison ivy. 

                  Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can be found in almost all areas of the forest and can be seen growing up trees and across the ground as a vine, or even upright, resembling a shrub. The plant itself inspired an easy rhyme that we all may have heard at some point, “Leaves of three, leave them be”.  This rhyme refers to the basic structure of poison ivy leaves that have three almond shape leaves coming out of its stem. The two outer leaves of the plant resemble an oven mitt with a little bit of the thumb sticking out away from the third center leaf (see picture below). The color of the plant can transition from the early spring to summer, changing from light to dark green. The leaves themselves can look waxy once they reach maturity, giving them a shiny coating. 

                  What makes the infamous poison ivy so troublesome, and brings about that itchy, bubbly rash, are the oils of the plant. These oils can be received from touching any part of the plant, from its leaves, to its stems, or the vine. Even worse, you can contract these oils when the plant is dormant and is lacking any leaves at all! The oils can take a while to sink into the skin and cause an irritation, so you may be able to wash them off before contracting the rash itself. However, it’s best to be aware of the plant and to avoid contact all together. 

Here are some good pointers to keep in mind while exploring the Parks: 

  • Always be aware of plants growing on trees when leaning against or grabbing any part of the branch or trunk.  
  • Make sure to stay on the trail and to not go romping off into the woods, especially in shorts. 

                  If you keep these pointers in mind, and remember the simple rhyme, you should be completely itch free during your summertime fun at the Parklands!       

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About the Author

Picture of Jared Smith

Jared Smith

Jared Smith is is a Natural Areas Technician at The Parklands. He grew up on the western side of the bluegrass state in Hopkins County in the small town of Manitou situated amongst the trees and fields nearby. Jared found himself in Louisville after transferring to the University of Louisville, where he received a degree in Elementary Education. Upon graduation he chose to follow his love of the outdoors with education, to teach informally about nature and conservation efforts to help preserve it. He has now transitioned to help preserve nature at The Parklands full time. When not at the park, Jared enjoys getting to spend time exploring, whether that means venturing off for a hike or bike ride.