January 13, 2023
Poison ivy really is good for something!


Photos by Reese Lukei


By Mary Reid Barrow

Leaves of three, let it be, that is, only if you are human!

If you ever thought poison ivy was good for nothing, think again.

Just like most native plants, it serves its purpose very well.  And raptor expert, Reese Lukei, has a vine on a tree in his Little Neck yard that proves the point.  He took the wonderful photo above of a pileated woodpecker with a little white poison ivy berry in its mouth.

“It is a delicacy for the birds,” Reese said, “just not for my skin!”

The majority of humans are allergic to poison ivy, but animals are not. Many species of birds, too numerous to relate, dine on the berries.  And mammals like bears, deer, and rabbits eat the berries, stems, and leaves.

Like other berried plants and trees, poison ivy provides food in the fall and winter after insects and plant seeds are long gone.

Even the little yellow-rumped warbler that was once called myrtle warbler because of its love of wax myrtle berries, feasts on poison ivy berries.

So does the yellow-bellied sapsucker, well known for its penchant for sap and famous for the sap wells it bores into trees for dining.

There are several sub-species of poison ivy and according to the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora, ours is eastern poison ivy, Var. Radicans. It is the poison ivy you are apt to find in the Atlantic and Gulf states.

Though an older poison ivy plant grows into a vine, often with a thick stem that can climb to the top of a tree, you may often see little poison ivy plants growing along trail edges or in your yard.  Animals  and birds excrete the seeds and then you have a new little poison ivy plant in the offing.

That happens in his yard, Reese said.

“When you fertilize your grass, the poison ivy benefits as well, he added.   “You just have to keep your eye out for it and wear gloves when you pull it out.”

LRNow would love to hear your nature news. Whether it’s about unusual plants or critters you see on your walks or find on the beach or tales of good folks who care for the environment, let know.


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