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Saturday, December 18, 2010

WINTER ID -- POISON IVY OR VIRGINIA CREEPER?


TOP OF EIGHT FOOT TALL TWISTING VINE
POISON IVY OR VIRGINIA CREEPER?


Winter changes the looks of plants. At least I think so. 


I was out walking a trail a few days ago and noticed what I thought was a large poison ivy plant. Hmm, the more I examined the eight foot twisting vine the more confused I got. See the whole plant and sections of it throughout this post except for the bottom photo 


If you are one that likes to walk trails in the woods and fields in the winter you might want to be aware of poison ivy -- it can cause allergic reactions year round. It grows throughout the United States. If you brush against the vine with your clothes the rash-causing oil will be picked up and will require washing to get rid of it. Also, you should be aware not to cut any of its lovely curving twigs for winter bouquets from its woody  vine.

But how is one to know if the plant is poison ivy when observed in the winter for there is another that looks similar -- Virginia creeper.



FROM ITS FLOURISHING HAIR-DO TYPE TOP TO ITS SOIL BASED VINE
THIS 8 FOOT VINE HUGS AN OLD FENCE POST.
IS IT POISON IVY OR VIRGINIA CREEPER?
Poison Ivy contains a chemical oil that causes a rash and irritation that can be quite unpleasant. Not all people are sensitive to the ivy’s oil but may develop an allergic reaction at any age.

Birds love the white berries that grow in small clusters along the vine in late summer. They provide nourishment for flickers, sapsuckers, pheasants, and quail to name a few. But no white berries are to be found in the winter. Nor its leaves of three, let it be clusters. To humans the whole plant is toxic. 


LARGE PLANT VINE SECTION
LARGE PLANT VINE SECTION

LARGE PLANT VINE SECTION
BOTTOM VINE SECTION

Another climbing woody vine that grows similar to poison ivy is Virginia creeper. Both plants  have aerial roots protruding all along their woody stems and they both have woody shrub- like vines. 

Virginia creeper also provides fruit, small blue berries, to a host of animals such as eastern bluebirds, cardinals, Leopard moths, deer, skunk and many more birds and mammals. The berries are found in late autumn. The berries are very toxic to humans. 


Both Virginia creeper and poison ivy grow in close proximity to each other and sometimes twine up the same post or tree.

So given the similarities between the two, how does one ID poison ivy from Virginia creeper in the winter? With their leaves gone and the berries off the poison ivy – what are the identifying traits that distinguish them from each other?

TWIGGY SMALL SHRUB CLOSE TO LARGE UNIDENTIFIED PLANT -- BELIEVE BERRIES OF VIRGINIA CREEPER?

Near the large unidentified plant was a smaller upright twiggy plant with a few blue berries still on it. Could this be  Virginia creeper? Was the large plant I was trying to identify also Virginia creeper? 

I know that there are lots of naturalists or plant people out there that probably could help me out in identifying this large twisting vine. Perhaps even provide tips for others needing to identify poison ivy along winter trails. 

Does anyone have any clues? Please comment with any information or suggestions – I surly would appreciate it. 


In the meantime I will steer clear of this beautiful twisting vine until summer when its leaves sprout. Then I can count its leaves. Leaves of three, let it be, is an old saying about poison ivy -- meaning count the leaves in its cluster -- if five its Virginia creeper --  if three, stay clear!


Addendum -- January 5, 2011
I am adding a link about winter poison ivy HERE. It is from OUTSIDE MY WINDOW -- A Bird Blog with Kate St John. She discusses the ivy is ways that I thought were a great supplement to this post. 

25 comments:

  1. I haven't a clue, but don't touch it!

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  2. Hi Barbara- While I am not a naturalist, I did find an excellent site that talks about the difference between poison ivy and virginia creeper in the winter. Here it is:
    http://www.gpnc.org/poison.htm
    The site above mentions that the tendrils coming off the virginia creeper are lighter and thicker in color than those coming off the poison ivy vine. Thanks for doing this post, I have often wondered the same thing myself and now I know...

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  3. Around here, poison ivy grows mostly as a short groundcover, so the answer would be easy! Virginia creeper is a strong and commonplace climber. I've only ever seen poison ivy growing as a vine once, down past London in southwestern Ontario. It must like your warmer climate.

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  4. Don't have any answers for you, but I love the look of any twisty vine.

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  5. Well, I'll admit right up front that I'm absolutely no help on this. I find it easier to tell the difference between Santa and one of his doppleganger helpers. :-) I have never even (knowingly) seen poison ivy climb like that and had no idea till now that it can and does! Since I've never reacted to poison ivy, I rarely pay much attention to it. BW usually has to point it out to me when he spies it on our hikes. (My grandmother lived into her late 90s and was immune to poison ivy her whole life, despite repeated exposure to it. I hope the immunity I inherited from her is that strong!)

    I found no help on the internet, either, which I'm sure comes as no surprise to you! But the consensus on all the web sites I looked at was that in the winter, without leaves and berries (or a rash!) to help, only an expert stands a chance of telling the difference. Got any botanists or university extension agent plant experts nearby? Steering clear of the mystery plant in the meantime is also the consensus.

    There were two sites I found that gave one clue to telling the plants apart in winter. One said the Virginia Creeper can easily be pulled away from any tree it's climbing, but the Poison Ivy will cling far more tenaciously with all its hairy aerial roots. (Of course, a tugging experiment means touching the plant!) And this web site, which claims telling them apart in winter through the presence of those hairy roots is "easy" has a photo about halfway down this page that might help. I'm hoping your discovery is a Virginia Creeper, I think they're lovely.

    I'll be curious to see if any of your followers have more helpful hints on this! Meanwhile, I learned something new already today and it's not even 6 am! :-)

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  6. "Leaves of three, let it be, is an old saying about poison ivy -- meaning count the leaves in its cluster -- if five its Virginia creeper -- if three, stay clear!"
    Ha! I laughed at this memory from Mom growing up.

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  7. NCmountain woman -- believe me, I won't touch the beauty until I find out what it is!! -- barbara

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  8. barefootheart -- Interesting that poison ivy does not vine where you live in Canada. It sure vines here as does Virginia creeper. I never had poison ivy bother me until I got older -- now it lovew to cause me problems. -- barbara

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  9. Darcy -- yes, I am familiar with that site however it did not provide enough clues to tell me what it was. I do thank you for trying to help me. -- barbara

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  10. Kass -- yes I like twisty vines too. But I know one can get into trouble cutting off the wrong vines -- meaning rash and misery. Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  11. Laloofah -- The aerial roots are all shriveled and are hard to distinguish between Virgina creeper and poison ivy. Maybe our freezing temps has diminished the roots? Perhaps contacting the forest service folks might help? I do think that if one is to walk the winter trails one should know the always poisonous -- poison ivy. -- barbara

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  12. Birdman -- yes, easy if the leaves are on the vine but with freezing temps -- the twisting vine exhibits only its light colored bark and lots of beautiful aerial twists -- maybe it I will have to wait until spring till I do see the leaves of three -- barbara

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  13. Hi Barbara:

    Wow! What a specimen that vine is in your first picture. At first glance, it reminds me of trumpet vine I've seen that grows up a post making a large rounded head on top once it outgrows its support. It is hard to tell from your picture, but the way I can identify woodbine as opposed to poison ivy is that poison ivy, if growing up a tree or structure, has aerial roots that look like a millipede as they cling to the support. Woodbine has noticeable tendrils (as opposed to aerial roots) that end in oval-shaped adhesive disks. In addition as you mention, woodbine has small blue-black fruits whereas the fruits of poison ivy are white berries. Because birds love them so much though, they are usually gone by late fall. However, the most foolproof way I've found is to identify poison ivy in the summer so I know where it is in the winter.

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  14. Thomas -- What is left of any aerial roots are froze into shriveled mini-strands making the roots difficult to determine if there are disc feet. I will research the trumpet vine. I guess the best thing to do when out walking is just stay away from any vine that even resembles poison ivy. I think it is just too difficult to identify in the winter. Thanks for the information -- barbara

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  15. I agree with Thomas just a bit. I did immediately think of our trumpet vines here on the farm. It really does make a striking photograph in its winter state.

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  16. I would just assume that it's poison ivy -- I don't remember seeing any Va. creeper that large.

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  17. Farmchick -- I guess it could be a trumpet vine. But I am still going to observe it from afar when I am out walking. Next spring I will go up and observe it viewing the growth pattern which should tell me what it is. -- barbara

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  18. Vicki -- I will respect the vine when I am out walking and not touch it. Spring should tell me what it is -- I hope. I am beginning to think that it is either a trumpet vine or poison ivy? Thanks -- barbara

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  19. You inspire me with your wonderful reflections about nature. Merits rereads. Thanks.

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  20. Moonbeams -- Thanks for leaving the nice comment about my reflections on nature. Will visit your blog soon -- barbara

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  21. I am finishing up a book on poison oak and poison ivy, but I live in Oregon and have not seen poison ivy in "real life. The "look" of the plant does not show me identifiers except for the aerial roots, and I now realize I don't know if Virginia creeper has aerial roots. One big identifier is patches of black resin on the trunk and stems from wounds. A vine as old as that should have patches of black around a wound where the allergenic resin has emerged. The resin has pulled back for winter, but if you can cut into a branch, the next time you come it might have made a black patch. The other thing is if you can see a stem close up, there are U shaped raised scars where the leaf stem fell off. They will be in an alternate pattern, not across from each other. Sandra

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  22. Hi Sandra -- Both Virginia creeper and poison ivy have aerial roots along their climbing stems. You suggest cutting into the branch which would cause exposure to the toxic oil of the plant -- instead I will take your other good suggestion. I will look for the U shaped raised scars where the leaf stem fell off -- in an alternate pattern. I lived in Oregon and know that poison oak can really cause an itchy rash. Thanks for the info -- barbara

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  23. Those berries remind me of the berries on greenbrier, but you'd know that plant for sure, with it's green runners and sharp, sharp thorns. I'm tending to agree with the trumpet vine theory. I never thought about identifying poison in the winter, but I do know if you burn a piece of wood that it's wrapped around you can get poison ivy from the smoke. Been there and it wasn't fun.

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  24. I can almost guarantee the large vine is poison ivy. The blue berries are on the thin greenbriar that climbed the poison ivy (notice the tendrils in the picture). P.I. has white berries that don't stick around for long because birds love them. That is a very common branching pattern of a P.I. vine that is reaching for something to climb. I've seen it many times. 3 more things. I have never seen a Virginia creeper vine that large or with stiff branches (if they aren't attached to something, they droop). Virginia creeper vines are far less "hairy" than P.I. and you can easily distinguish by looking at the ends of the aerial rootlets. V.C. root tips have little suction cups on them that literally cup onto objects. P.I. does not! That is a very reliable method to distinguish the two in winter. Trumpet creeper vines are not hairy, so that can be ruled out easily.

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    1. Tyler -- thanks for the great tips of identifying poison ivy. I am sure the folks reading this post will appreciate your help in identifying it. After I wrote this post an old woodsman stopped by for a visit and told me about the white berries. He walked around my property and showed me several more plants that I had. I left them alone after that as my research told me about the P. I. white berries being a favorite of many birds. I have recently moved from that wonderful country property -- how I miss the ecology of the area -- it taught me so much in the years I lived there. -- thanks barbara

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