Saturday, June 25, 2011
Leaves of Three, Should I Grow Thee?
As a plant, poison ivy can be a vine, groundcover, or a shrub. It is not a true ivy, any more than poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens) is a true oak. It is related to mango's and cashews, both of which can cause reactions in very susceptible people. The caustic substance produced by the plant is an oil, called urushiol, and there's a lot of information available about the chemistry of the oil if you want to look it up, but I don't see how it's useful to a susceptible gardener to know that the more unsaturated the urushiol molecules are, the greater the bodily reaction invoked. We don't go around with chemistry sets measuring the number of double bonds to decide if we can safely touch a particular specimen.
But, setting all that aside, I'm starting to wonder if a well-cared for specimen wouldn't be a nice horticultural accent to my garden. Just think about it. If poison ivy was a benign plant, the white berries would be coveted by gardeners, and poison ivy is a completely stunning plant in fall when its leaves turn the most wondrous shade of bright scarlet. A large specimen would have the dual purpose of punishing burglars and keeping other interlopers out of my garden, providing privacy for me in my garden as effectively as surrounding the garden with a moat. I think my children are immune, having tested both with a little rub of a leaf in their younger days, but I don't know about my wife. I don't really want to keep her out of my garden, but I suppose it's an option if she gets too uppity about me not mowing the prairie grasses and forbs this year.