Poison Ivy

Based on my experience, “Leaves of three, let them be”, is excellent advice. This photo was taken east of Idaho Falls so don’t be fooled into thinking poison ivy is, “an Eastern thing.”

My wife, daughter-in-law and granddaughter all thought I was a bit daft laying on my belly photographing some fungi at a county nature park in Virginia. I was pretty smug though, a great photographer doing what it took to get the perfect angle and background for my subject. Within a short time though, I began to regret my dedication. In two places on my left arm, red welts began to appear. At first, I thought I had been attacked by some biting animal, but as time passed, I realized that somehow, I had gotten into poison ivy.

This was a first for me. And although I always prefer to write about things that I have personal experience with, my very first encounter with touching poison ivy turned out to be an experience I would have gladly forgone. If you have ever suffered with poison ivy, I am certain you will agree with me. If you haven’t experienced it, I will describe the consequences briefly to convince you that you don’t want to go there. Ever. Also, keep in mind that my incident was just two little spots on my arm. I could not even imagine having this malady across broad portions of my skin.

The sap of poison ivy contains the chemical urushiol. This is a highly potent chemical. It is estimated that a single quarter ounce of urushiol could cause a rash on every person on earth. It binds quickly with skin proteins and initiates an immune response usually within 12 hours to three days. So, it is possible that I contacted poison ivy a day or two earlier than my little roll in the dirt—that just seems like the most likely source.

Regardless, the rash turned cherry red and began to itch. However, scratching it caused it to weep and made the itching worse and anti-itch cream with one percent hydrocortisone did nothing to relieve the itch. As I write this, it has been ten days since I first noticed it and it is beginning to fade, but it still itches like a thousand mosquito bites.

Incidentally, there is a myth associated with the rash caused by poison ivy. It states that scratching the rash can cause it to spread. This isn’t so. It is the urushiol that causes the problem and once it has bound with the proteins it has done its damage. It is likely the myth is a result of the slow reaction time. If you don’t know you have been exposed to poison ivy, any urushiol on your hands or clothes may be deposited on skin that comes in contact with the contaminated items and rashes may form in the strangest places.

Poison ivy isn’t the only plant to contain urushiol. Poison oak, which has leaves similar to poison ivy but has fuzzy berries instead of smooth ones, and poison sumac also contain this nasty chemical. Poison oak and poison ivy both follow the rhyme, “leaves of three, let them be”. They have compound leaves divided into three leaflets with the center leaf having a longer stem. Poison sumac may have seven to thirteen leaflets though, but has red stems. All parts of each of these plants contain urushiol so don’t handle them at all. In addition, all three of these plants have wide distributions and different species can be found across the continental U.S. including Idaho.

This information is pertinent right now because all of these plants have pretty fall leaves and could fool an unsuspecting person into handling them. All I can say is be careful. These plants can really make you sorry you touched them.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho