“Leaves of three, let them be…”
If you grew up even remotely outdoorsy, hiking, camping, fishing, or if you were involved in girl or boy scouts, then odds are, you are familiar with that rhyme.
It was a reminder of how to recognize poison ivy, so that you didn’t go trouncing through a nice leafy patch of it and wind up covered in oozing red rashes, itchy as sin.
Poison ivy is a small, three-leaved plant that, when disturbed in some way, releases an odorless, colorless oil called urushiol, which causes an allergic reaction in most people. If you touch poison ivy, you have about 15-20 minutes to thoroughly wash your skin of the resin to reduce your chances of reacting.
Poison ivy is also somewhat hard to identify. It looks similar to a lot of other plants. And since the leaves change color throughout the year, recognizing poison ivy simply by the hue of its leaves isn’t accurate. So my Brownies leaders instilled the fear of God in us, rhyming about all three-leafed plants!
As a kid, I was terrified of the stuff. To the point it was bordering on phobic. Growing up along the banks of the Columbia River? That evil little plant was everywhere!
It terrorized me.
Or at least, 8-year-old me was pretty sure all poison ivy was after me. Because logic.
Whether we were taking the short cut to the school bus stop, heading down to the cove on the river, or building a tree fort, poison ivy was everywhere, and you quickly learned how to get around it. My friends and I had laid out very specific paths that were deemed safe.
Jump from this rock, to that grassy patch, to those other rocks…
Go through that sandy patch, then over those rocks, then around that tree…
When in doubt, just always, always stay on the rocks as much as possible!
Many of my friends had slip-ups, and wound up with poison ivy. There were hushed, ominous whispers whenever we’d hear word of who was struck next. They missed a day or two of school, and then showed up covered in bandages and calamine lotion. Mother Nature’s warriors.
I never had poison ivy as a kid. I think my phobia played to my advantage in that regard. I never, ever got close enough to the three-leaved devils to get the rash. However, that one pesky little thing I grew up and forgot about? You don’t have to touch the plants themselves to come in contact with urushiol resin. Anything that touched the plant (shoes, clothes, pets), or anything that was touched by someone immediately after touching the plant (steering wheels, bike handles, door knobs), was fair game to giving you the rash.
That’s where my downfall came.
Friends of ours had just come back from a long hike a couple of summers ago. They stopped by on their way home, and their dogs jumped out of the car to say hi also. One of the dogs, still tired from her hiking ordeal, came and rested against my bare legs…
I broke out in the rash a little over a day later. At first I thought it was eczema. Then it spread a bit more, and began to rupture and ooze. It was torture. The itching was unbearable! The clinic told me to let the rash breathe, only covering it lightly with gauze at night. I applied hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl anti-itch cream, and calamine lotion like crazy; only this magic trifecta seemed to make it tolerable. It was like mosquito bites on steroids. I didn’t sleep much, fighting the overwhelming urge to scratch. I’m getting itchy just thinking about it…
All in all, it was the suckiest week ever. And only served to reignite my fear of the evil little three-leafed plant.
I’m all about getting out into nature. But you’ve been warned.