Thursday, June 20, 2024

Gardening with Dr. Joe White: Beware of Poisonous Plants

by BPT Staff
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Our weather patterns this year thus far have favored the growth of plants many of which are weeds. Among these plants are perennial species that are poisonous, especially to humans. Of course, gardeners because they work among plants should be aware of the plants that are poisonous. Poison ivy is probably the most common and widely recognized of the poisonous species because it not only thrives in the wilds, but invades our yards and gardens 

Dr. Joe W. White is a retired horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter.

The most dependable method for controlling poison ivy is with appropriate herbicides and now while the plant is still relatively young and tender is when treatments are most effective. Often, we may suddenly become aware that it has mingled with some of our ground cover plants, our grape vines  or other ornamental vines which makes it difficult to kill with herbicides without damaging the plants we wish to keep. Digging up or cutting off the poison ivy vines is not a satisfactory method of control as many pieces of the plant remain in the ground and will give rise to additional plants.

Many people once they have made even an incidental contact with poison ivy will develop an itching or uncomfortable rash while those that are extremely allergic to the plant should seek immediate attention from a doctor. Should you decide to burn the plant, DON’T!  The smoke can have the same effect as touching the vine and if inhaled could do even greater damage.

Poison ivy plants climbing a tree should be cut a foot above the ground and the part of the vine still in the ground should be saturated with an appropriate herbicide. Whenever poison ivy is found among garden plants that are sensitive to chemicals, you can make up an herbicide solution in an open bucket and wipe it on the leaves of the ivy without touching “the good guys”. Do keep a bucket of clean water nearby to rinse off any chemical that drips on the plants that you are protecting. A neat way to accomplish a treatment to get rid of the poison ivy without harming your garden plants is: to prepare your herbicide solution in an open pail. Place on the hand you use to apply the solution an impervious rubber glove and over that glove put on a cheap cotton glove. Dip the gloved hand into the solution and press it on the inside of the bucket to remove any excess amount that could drip on the leaves of your good plants. Now, wipe with the soaked glove the solution on the poison ivy leaves.

Don’t confuse poison ivy with Virginia creeper. Virginia creeper has five leaflets on its compound leaves while poison ivy only has three.

Another poison plant to be aware of is poison oak which grows as a low shrub. Its leaves resemble those of some of our oak trees but are smaller. It is usually found in dry, sunny places. 

Two landscape plants to avoid are castor bean (one or two beans swallowed can be fatal). Oleander (all parts) one or two leaves eaten can cause death.          

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