Essential Pittsburgh
4:15 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

A Season for Bigger, Badder Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy has gotten bigger, badder, and more dangerous as CO2 levels have spiked.
Poison Ivy has gotten bigger, badder, and more dangerous as CO2 levels have spiked.
Credit Zen Sutherland / Flickr

Global warming has had some unexpected consequences, some good, some bad, but perhaps none are quite so itchy as the explosion in poison ivy growth.

Because of the abundance of CO2 in the air of late, weed plants such as poison are thriving, and biologist Joylette Portlock claims that poison ivy “could be growing twice as fast” by the middle of the 21st century.

Around the country, people are facing rapidly growing  poison ivy, often with pan-sized leaves. With that increased size comes an increase in urushiol, the toxin that puts the “poison” in poison ivy.

So what are we to do? According to Cynthia Morton, the curator of botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, it comes down to being aware of poison ivy and proactive when you’ve been around it, which is often, because, as Morton tells us, “It is everywhere, especially throughout Pennsylvania.”

Following the old adage “leaves of three, let it be” may seem overly cautious, but it encourages proactive behavior. When an encounter with poison ivy does occur, Morton says it is important to get the urushiol off as soon as possible, using soap and water, or even dirt if necessary. Clothes and sheets should be promptly washed to rid them of the toxin. Should things worsen, medical treatment should be sought without delay.