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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - November 22, 2015

From: Ringgold, GA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Vines
Title: How to get Poison Ivy?
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I know this is a silly question but we have a lot of poison ivy in the area and I know that birds eat the seeds and berries, can you get poison ivy from bird poop or track it in the house? From shoes if you step on fresh bird poop?

ANSWER:

It is a chemical in the sap, called Urushiol from the poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) plant that causes such a nasty rash and so much discomfort in about 85% of the population.

Looking online, Webmd.com says that Urushiol is found in all parts of these plants, including the leaves, stems, and roots, and is even present after the plant has died. Urushiol is absorbed quickly into the skin. It can also be inhaled if the poison plants are burned. The smoke may expose not only the skin to the chemical but also the nasal passages, throat, and lungs. Inhaled urushiol can cause a very serious allergic reaction.

Now to answer your question about birds and their love of eating the white waxy fruit. As the poison ivy fruit travels through the birds digestive system it is likely that the fleshy part of the seed is dissolved and the urushiol sap is neutralized. I could find no reference online about getting a reaction from poison ivy sap that was the result of bird droppings.

For more information on poison ivy, visit Wildman Steve Brill online who says "Leaves of three, let it be! Berries white, take flight! and Hairy Rope, Don't Be a Dope!"

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

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