Poison ivy, peppervine popping up

Peppervine is often mistaken for poison ivy. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Peppervine is often mistaken for poison ivy. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Does a wetter than normal spring affect poison ivy and peppervine like a dousing with Miracle-Gro?

I’ve always had a bit of both, but this year it’s everywhere.

And I’ve had two bouts of itchy rash from the former to prove it. The first time wasn’t a surprise. I accidentally grabbed what I thought was peppervine and pulled. It wasn’t. I have no idea how I got it on my forearms two weeks later. Maybe it was on my dog’s fur and transferred to me when I loved on them. If so, I fear I am in for a miserable summer because I am crazy ’bout my dogs.

If you’re uncertain which vine is which, keep reading:

Poison ivy.

Poison ivy.

Peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea) is frequently mistaken for poison ivy. The leaf shape is similar and new growth is a reddish color, just like poison ivy. They’re easy to tell apart, though, if you take the time to count. Poison ivy always has three leaves per stem — remember, “Leaves of three, let them be?” Peppervine has five or more leaves per stem. And, thank goodness for me, the other difference is peppervine doesn’t contain urushiol, the substance that causes a rash that will make you want to scratch it with steel wool.

Poison ivy didn’t always cause me to have an allergic reaction. I practically rolled in the stuff when I was a little girl playing with my friend Diane in the woods around my grandmother’s house. Sadly, as I got older, that immunity vanished, along with the ability to walk barefoot on hot gravel and other great gifts only a 9-year-old has.

Virginia creeper.

Virginia creeper.

There’s another plant that is often mistaken for poison ivy. Virginia creeper clings to trees and winds its way through flower beds, just like poison ivy. It’s easy to identify, though, because of its distinctive round cluster of leaflets, sometimes three or seven, usually five. It’s a pretty vine and the leaves turn red or burgundy in fall, but it’s super aggressive, can climb 50 feet and clings to structures with sticky discs that are nearly impossible to remove.  Given those characteristics, it’s probably better to just enjoy a glimpse of it in the woods as you zoom by in your car.

Of course, identifying what you’ve got is just half the job, and I have all three of these nuisances.

Coming Sundayday: Tips and tricks for killing plants you don’t want without wiping out the ones you love. (Been there. Done that. Don’t recommend it.)

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