Before you read any further, look at this photo. Do you recognize the plant? Nice fall-reddened leaves growing from a tree? Perhaps you’ve seen something similar and thought–as I have–what nice colors, I’ll take a few to decorate my table…
But, stop! That would be a big mistake, and one I almost made this fall. This is our old friend, Toxicodendron radicans, or Poison Ivy. It is worth revisiting this master of disguise as it adopts a beautiful new look for the season.
Each year, as the green of our deciduous woods begins to take on the first tinges of a polychrome autumn, a few plants make the move earlier than others. My observations suggest that growing on the edges of a forest and hence having greater access to direct sun often correlates with an earlier color transition. In one of its varied growth forms, Poison Ivy is a vine that climbs trees and holds its stems beyond the branches of its host tree. It steals sunlight by positioning its leaves above the tree’s own.
But by turning lovely shades of yellow, orange and red while the host tree remains green, Poison Ivy gives itself away. (It may also sport small dry gray berries.) Now is a good time to learn to identify this plant, while enjoying its colorful show–at a safe distance.
I must add one “gotcha”: Poison Ivy, leaves of three, often drops one or two leaves from its leaflet in the fall.