Poison Ivy – Good?

I am highly allergic to Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). As a youngster, I never got a Poison Ivy rash, though I loved to romp in the unending woods directly behind my house. Vines to swing over the creek, forts — my friends and I were out there constantly. In 1985 I had a wakeup call, with an extremely painful rash on my arm. My luck had run out. A trip to the doctor’s office got me temporary relief with steroids. I have a quilt to show for the time I was on those steroids and bouncing off the walls. I resorted to creating a quilt to help my addled brain. I quickly learned to avoid at all costs the beautiful plant.

Beautiful Plant?

Yes, I think Poison Ivy is quite a beautiful plant. Just look at its scarlet leaves in the first photograph. This is the scarlet of spring, with leaves that are often very shiny, whether scarlet in spring, or green in summer. As spring turns to summer, the plant puts out flowers. Large clusters of soft, pale green, with brilliant school bus yellow centers.

More Color In Autumn

As trees are putting on their autumnal show, Poison Ivy — whether in its vine form, climbing way up into trees, or trailing along the ground, or taking on the form of a small bush, puts on its own show with bright color. Either sunshine yellow, crimson red, or pumpkin orange.


The vines, creeping up tall trees, only know sky as the limit. They climb as high as a tree will grow, with their thread-like hairs. The vines make me think of sculptures, wrapped up and around lovely textured bark. Those thread-like hairs of the Poison Ivy vine, can sometimes be found in the nests of cardinals and goldfinches. A helpful building material.


As the autumn leaves fall, they leave behind berries.  Off white berries, speckled with a bit of bitter chocolate brown. These berries attract many birds.  Bluebirds, crows, turkeys and all manner of woodpeckers.

The wonderful winter of 2009-10 which covered the ground here on my mountain with 72 inches of snow, created a Poison Ivy fruit cafeteria of berries for a remarkable number of woodpeckers. Many pileateds, and yellow-shafted flickers descended upon a large oak tree covered with Poison Ivy in front of my cabin. They returned day after day, until the many vines were stripped of their berries. That winter gave me new respect for what Poison Ivy can do for birds in my area.


© 2014, Brenda Clements Jones. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Karan Rawlins says

    I did a little research on poison ivy when I worked as a naturalist so I could describe it’s many qualities to people on my hikes.
    Here are a few things I learned:
    Only humans have an allergic reaction to poison ivy. Deer eat the leaves and birds eat the fruits.
    Only about 50% of people are allergic to it.
    But…even if you have never reacted to it before, you might react if you are on antibiotics or have recently been on them.
    Your clothes can protect you, so wear long pants, socks, and a long sleeved shirt when you know you may be coming into contact with it.
    There are many preventatives and remedies, such as homeopathic treatment to keep you from reacting to poison ivy, washing as soon as possible with a dandruff shampoo such as head n shoulders. Do an online search to find some things to try and to help you decide what might work best for you.
    Have fun playing in the woods!

    • Brenda Clements Jones says

      Hi Karan, in my case, apparently my body just said, “That is *enough*!” I had suddenly become allergic to the plant and at about the same time, I became allergic to chocolate! Sometimes we just grow into allergies. I’m cautious with the plant and respect it whenever I see it. I do though, let it grow for my feathered friends, since I know that they enjoy the berries!

      Thank you for reading my post!

    • Darcy McClelland says

      Actually, clothing can be a source of spreading the ivy toxin. Urushiol is very determined and long-lasting. If it is on shoes/shoelaces, pants, and/or shirt sleeves, it is still capable of creating a reaction to those of us allergic to it! I have many times discovered the rash when I have not come indirect contact with the leaves, roots, vines, etc. I’ve learned that I have to remove my clothes with gloves, being careful that nothing touches bare skin, and then toss the ‘offending’ clothes into the washing machine … with the water at its hottest setting.

      And did you know that “dead” vines on wrapped around trees can still transfer urushiol to you? A very determined toxin indeed!

      BTW, Brenda, I was like you … totally unaffected by poison ivy as a child, romping through fields of it. Now I am highly allergic. Most of the time it’s of the indirect contact (as above). However, a direct touch from a leaf results in blisters on top of blisters. Luckily antihistamines do a pretty good job of keeping the itch away.

      I hate the plant and try to eradicate from areas by the house (very hard to do). But I do like the autumn colors in the tree tops in the woods!

      • Brenda Clements Jones says

        Hi Darcy! Oh my goodness! I know so very well, how the urushiol can be brought in innocently by someone else, whether it be a pet or a human family member. There are times when even doing the laundry can be dangerous! My husband knows to warn me when he has been working in poison ivy, and I will work with his work clothes – with tongs! I do know about those lifeless vines too. I’ve gotten to be very good at identifying the plant, no matter what form it shows up in – even the leafless spouts that are waiting in the woods, for spring, to send up their new, shiny red leaves! I live in the woods and am content to stick to my paths, which are poison ivy free, leaving the berry producing stuff for the birds to enjoy. Otherwise, I’d be up to my elbows in burning rash!

        Thank you so much, Darcy, for reading my post!

  2. says

    Like you, I never got Poison Ivy as a child. I could happily play away all day, swinging on the vines. In fact I never got it at all as an adult either. I was the friend called in to clear it at my friend’s homes. That is until 2 summers ago. And it was BAD. It took me a long time to discover exactly what it was, and even after the doc told me I was in total denial, “But I don’t get Poison Ivy!” Now I’ve learned that I need to take precautions when I’m around it. That said, so many species of birds eat these berries, that it is a very GOOD ecosystem component to have in your wildlife garden (even if only at the far back edges of your property)
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Faculty Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Certificate Program in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture

    • Brenda Clements Jones says

      Carole, funny how these things (allergies in this case) creep up on us. I figure in my case, it was simply my body telling me that it had put up with enough and wanted me to stay out of the poison ivy!

      As for putting up with the vine, my witnessing the large congregation of woodpeckers dining on the poison ivy berries, in the dead of winter, was a wake-up moment for me. I had no idea that the vine really provided any good. Now I know, and if it is not directly in my path, I leave it be. No harm to anyone or anything, and I want my bird friends to be happy!

  3. Grant Hartman says

    The poison ivy plant is very aggressive and invasive here in Southern Indiana. It is a native plant to North America and is spread throughout the woodlands here by the birds. It is invasive and may kill or disrupt the growth of trees while crowding out other native woodland vines and shrubs that may also benefit the local wildlife. I think that it needs to be controlled in our natural woodland areas.

    • Kat Ranalli says

      Actually, Poison Ivy IS a native plant. I was allergic to it as a child, and still am. I once had it on my face, and my eyes swelled shut. I avoid it, but respect it for all the reasons this great article, with wonderful photos, presents.

      • Brenda Clements Jones says

        Kat, of course I should have mentioned that Poison Ivy is a native. So very glad that you read my article and enjoyed it! Along with me and so many others, watch out for and it and treat it with respect!

    • Brenda Clements Jones says

      Judy, I’m so pleased that you learned things from reading my blog. Every time *I* write a blog, I learn many things! So, you are learning right along with me!

      So glad that you enjoyed the article and the photos!

      I hope you are warm and safe on this wintry day!


  1. […] Poison Ivy is quite a beautiful plant. Just look at its scarlet leaves in the first photograph. This is the scarlet of spring, with leaves that are often very shiny, whether scarlet in spring, or green in summer. As spring turns to summer, the plant puts out flowers. Large clusters of soft, pale green, with brilliant school bus yellow centers.  […]

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