Last month, Marni Jameson, our weekly syndicated columnist for the Home & Garden section wrote about her recent exposure to a bout of poison ivy.
June's ample rain and early July's string of hot temperatures and humidity have made poison ivy a thriving sea of green leaves. I've lived on a farm and roamed woods, ditches and fields my entire life and never had any run-ins with the itchy rash of poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. That is, until last month, when, like our columnist Ms. Jameson who pens "At Home," I too broke out from poison ivy.
For my four-plus decades and youth, poison ivy was less of a nefarious plant and instead, more closely identified with the arch-villainess Poison Ivy, enemy of Batman and able to use her mastery of botany and immunity to all toxins to fuel her crime waves on Gotham City.
Last week, I heard WGN Chicago meteorologist Tom Skilling interviewed by radio personality Garry Meier, and he mentioned there's a reason for the out-of-control super strains of poison ivy attacking the unsuspecting ranks of summer.
Skilling says growth of poison ivy this summer is up by 145 percent and the reason is carbon dioxide. While animals depend on oxygen, of course, it's carbon dioxide that is the equivalent for the plant world.
Lewis H. Ziska, a research weed ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said laboratory and field studies show poison ivy is advancing with climate change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the trend will continue as carbon dioxide levels keep rising "from the current average level of about 400 parts per million to 560 ppm or higher in the next 30 to 50 years, with predicted levels reaching 800 ppm by century's end."
Skilling said poison ivy is a plant that is especially fond of increased carbon levels and poison ivy's growth and potency has doubled since the 1960s.
While poison ivy likes to spread across landscape, choking trees and covering low-lying plant-life, the upside is these infamous "leaves of three" are favorite food for deer. And from afar, Skilling also mentioned landscapers and professional gardeners in arboretums and conservatories value poison ivy as prized for the brilliant yellow and red transformation of the leaves on the climbing vines during the fall.
The bad news is the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports birds like to dine on the white berries from the plant and ultimately help spread the plant's growth. And the potent oil from the plant, which is called "urushiol," is so intense, a drop tiny enough to fit on the head of a pin is enough to spread itchy misery to as many as 500 people. Even a billionth of a gram trace of the oil on skin is likely to bring a breakout.
As for how Batman's foe Poison Ivy, introduced by DC Comics in 1966 as a rival for The Catwoman, and how she gained her immunity to all such toxins? Her alter ego Dr. Pamela Lillian Rose Isley, was a promising botanist from Seattle, who was seduced by her beau to assist him with the theft of an Egyptian urn containing ancient herbs. Fearing she would implicate him in the theft, he tries to poison her with the herbs, which are deadly and untraceable. However, she survives the murder attempt and discovers she has acquired immunity to all natural toxins and diseases.
Hmmm...not really an option for the rest of us.