In Praise of Poison Ivy: The Secret Virtues, Astonishing History, and Dangerous Lore of the World's Most Hated Plant

In Praise of Poison Ivy: The Secret Virtues, Astonishing History, and Dangerous Lore of the World's Most Hated Plant

by Anita Sanchez
In Praise of Poison Ivy: The Secret Virtues, Astonishing History, and Dangerous Lore of the World's Most Hated Plant

In Praise of Poison Ivy: The Secret Virtues, Astonishing History, and Dangerous Lore of the World's Most Hated Plant

by Anita Sanchez


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Deadly. Powerful. Beautiful. The much-hated plant called poison ivy is all of these—and more.
Poison ivy has long irritated humans, but the astounding paradox is that poison ivy is a plant of immense ecological value. In Praise of Poison Ivy explores the vices and virtues of a plant with a dramatic history and a rosy future. Once planted in gardens from Versailles to Monticello, poison ivy now has a crucial role in the American landscape. The detested plant is a lens through which to observe the changes and challenges that face our planet.
For centuries, poison ivy has bedeviled, inconvenienced, and downright tortured the human race. This book covers the unique history of the plant, starting with the brash and adventurous explorer Captain John Smith, who “discovered” poison ivy the hard way in 1607. Despite its irritating qualities, the magnificent scarlet-and-gold autumn foliage lured Virginia entrepreneurs to export the vine to Europe, making it one of the earliest documented New World plants to cross the Atlantic, and its meteoric rise to fame as–of all unlikely things—a garden plant. Showcased in the pleasure grounds of emperors and kings, poison ivy was displayed like a captive tiger, admired by Thomas Jefferson, Marie Antoinette, and Josephine Bonaparte.
Today, poison ivy is valued by environmentalists and native plant enthusiasts who name it one of our most important plants for wildlife as well as for soil conservation. In Praise of Poison Ivy will reveal why, in its native American habitat, poison ivy is a plant of astonishing ecological value. Poison ivy leaves are an important wildlife food, and the berries are a crucial source of winter nutrition for beloved bird species like robins, bluebirds and cardinals. On a national listing of hundreds of native plants that are of value to wildlife, poison ivy ranks seventh in importance.
InPraise of Poison Ivy also explores the question of why this plant is apparently on a mission to give us humans grief, from itchy ankles to life-threatening medical emergencies. The book will examine why poison ivy targets humans, but no other species, and explain the mystery of why a privileged few are immune to its itchy consequences.

Since the time of John Smith and Pocahontas, the American landscape has changed in countless ways—many obvious, some subtle. This book will reveal why there is far more poison ivy on the planet now than there was in 1607, with lots more on its way. It examines the ecological reasons for poison ivy’s rosy future, note the effects of climate change on native plants, and investigate the valuable role that poison ivy could play in our changing world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781630761318
Publisher: Taylor Trade Publishing
Publication date: 04/01/2016
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Anita Sanchez is a professional environmental educator with over twenty-five years of experience at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. As a science writer, she is fascinated by plants no one loves—like poison ivy. Her website on under-appreciated plants,, has a lively and growing readership.

Table of Contents

Introduction x

Chapter 1 The Poysoned Weede 1

Chapter 2 A Collection of Rarities 12

Chapter 3 Bartram's Boxes 19

Chapter 4 Loathesome Harlotry 26

Chapter 5 The Biggest Book 37

Chapter 6 Strong Medicine 45

Chapter 7 Royal Color 53

Chapter 8 A Virginia Native 62

Chapter 9 The Vine Lifestyle 69

Chapter 10 The Columbian Exchange 75

Chapter 11 What Do Animals Eat? 85

Chapter 12 Bird Candy 91

Chapter 13 Preparing for Doomsday 95

Chapter 14 Holding On to the Land 100

Chapter 15 There's Gold in the Hills: Poison Oak 106

Chapter 16 The Devil You Know 114

Chapter 17 No Holds Barred 121

Chapter 18 The Future of Poison Ivy 125

Epilogue: To Feed a Mockingbird 131

Acknowledgments 135

Appendix: How to Avoid, Heal, Obliterate, and Coexist with Poison Ivy 136

Part 1 How Not to Get Poison Ivy 136

Before You Touch Poison Ivy 137

What Is Urushiol? 137

How to Identify Poison Ivy 140

After You've Touched Poison Ivy 140

Part 2 How to Treat Poison Ivy 141

The Rash 142

The Jewelweed Controversy 144

A List of Remedies 145

The Healing Power of Plants 146

Recovery 146

Part 3 How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy 147

Part 4 Toxic Relatives 150

Our American Cousin: Poison Sumac 151

Just Your Basic Poison Ivy: Toxicodendron radicans 152

The Other Poison Ivy: Toxicodendron rydbergii 152

Endnotes 154

Bibliography 166

Index 175

About the Author 180

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