Campers across North America may want to avert their eyes and start wearing extra-high hiking boots. New research has shown that poison ivy has steadily grown worse in the past decade.
Needing no introduction to anyone who’s spent a little time in the woods, poison ivy triggers a very itchy rash on the skin. The bad news is that it is getting even more powerful as time goes on. Botanic researchers say poison ivy is growing faster than ever before. It also seems to be sweating out more potent oil. That oil not only creates wider rashes, but more itchy ones, too.
The cause may be rising carbon dioxide levels in the forest. It’s creating poison ivy plants with bigger leaves, thicker stems, and more irritating oil. If the oil isn’t too potent, then you can likely walk by a poison ivy plant, even brush it, and not sustain a rash. But if the oil is potent, even a casual brush will trigger an outbreak.
The study was conducted in Maryland, where researchers exposed ivy plants to varying levels of carbon dioxide. Some levels were equal to what was around in the 1950s or so. Some levels were equal to the current environment. The latter led to plants that were bigger, weighed more, and had more oil. In some cases, the plants are nearly twice as big as they used to be.
If you don’t want to spend a week scratching your skin and contemplating sleeping in the bathtub, be sure to pay attention to what’s underfoot in the forest. Even that is getting tougher! You used to be able to identify poison ivy as being short with three leaves. But it can have more than three leaves, and even look like a small bush, or a vine. If you wear long pants and socks, be sure to wash them before wearing them again, as the oil can seep into the fabric and stay there.