A Brief History of Poison Ivy

You may have noticed that Ms. Jeannie has been absent from the blog for a few days. Unfortunately, in all the excitement and anticipation of good gardening days, Ms. Jeannie, unknowingly,  pulled out a whole patch of poison ivy vines. With her bare hands.

This little garden patch was in her friend’s poolside landscaping bed that contained beautifully tall stalks of salvia, a pink climbing rose bush, a flowering mystery plant, a ton and half of weeds and the unforseen poison ivy. Focusing more on the mystery plant then the ivy , Ms. Jeannie just jumped right in to pulling weeds, dreaming all the while about the garden utopia she could create here at the  pool.

Needless to say, day 3 of the rash yielded a trip to the doctor after both her eyelids were swollen shut. Magically, overnight, it seems that Ms. Jeannie had turned into a puffin.

While waiting in the doctor’s office, Ms. Jeannie wondered where poison ivy originated from. Surely it had to be in the same importation category as those fish that have feet and the beetles that destroy pine trees by the thousands.

Ever the researcher, (swollen eyes or not!) Ms. Jeannie was surprised to learn that poison ivy is native to North America.

She also learned that it is a relative of both the cashew and the mango.  Mustard gas used in World War I was inspired by it, and in the 1960’s, Poison Ivy was a DC Comic book character.

Ironically enough, there is a DC comic book for sale on Etsy that features Poison Ivy…

1960’s era DC comic book featuring Batman’s enemy, Poison Ivy from GrannysCoolStuff

In 2001,  Poison Ivy underwent an image makeover courtesy of artist Brian Bolland. Clearly, a touch more sexy then the 60’s version.

Promotional Cover for Batman Gotham Nights cover, 2001 by artist Brian Bolland.

Poison Ivy was first recorded in North America by Captain John Smith in Virginia in the early 1600’s. John Smith was an English explorer who established the first North American settlement at Jamestown, Virginia.

Captain John Smith (1580-1631)

He was the the person to give poison ivy it’s name as it reminded him of the English ivy that grew in his homeland. This is what he recorded…

“The poisonous weed, being in shape but little different from our English ivie; but being touched causeth reddness, itchings,and lastly blysters, the which howsoever, after a while they pass away of themselves without further harme; yet because for the time they are somewhat painefull, and in aspect dangerous, it hath gotten itselfe an ill name, although questionless ofnoe very ill nature.” – Captain John Smith, 1609

Incidently, European explorers in the 1800’s transported poison ivy to England and Australia to be used as decorative plantings in cottage gardens as the leaves turned a brilliant red/orange in the fall.  Sorry about that dear ones. How dreadful!

Urushiol is the oil found in poison ivy that causes an allergic reaction. The word urushiol is derived from the Japanese word for lacquer, which is kiurushi.

Urushiol can be found in all traditional Japanese and Chinese laquerware. Because urushiol is poisonous to the touch until it dries, it takes a skilled dedicated artist to work with the product. As many as 200 coats of lacquer are applied to one object, with drying and polishing occurring between each application.

Prized for being one of the strongest adhesives in the natural world it is extraordinarily durable and is resistent to water, acids, alkali and abrasion.

18th century laquered Japanese writing box.

This just goes to show you that beauty can be be derived from all situations, whether it is perceived as good or bad!

Ms. Jeannie found these great items on Etsy that would have been super useful had she had them on hand before the start of her gardening project.

Poison Ivy Relieve Salve by bcbontanicals

Detox Blend from rootsandflowers

Vintage Gardening Books from theArtFloozy

That being said she will stock her medicine cabinet  in case she stumbles across the ivy again. Right now that thought makes her wince, but, just like any weed, a true gardener can never be knocked down!

Ms. Jeannie has come away from this whole experience learning one big lesson when it comes to digging in the dirt. Definitely look before you leap, my dears, look before you leap.

7 thoughts on “A Brief History of Poison Ivy

    • Oh, dear one, Ms. Jeannie doesn’t believe you can ever get a true garden lover down. The utopia is still in the works, although slightly modified from originals plans at this stage! I’ll send updates of the garden as it grows:) In the meantime, you are a dear for commenting. – My best, Ms. Jeannie

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  1. What a great if somewhat perplexing story and I am wishing Miss Jeannie does not experience any further set backs from this harmless looking plant, I must however take my hat off to her dogged determination and dedicated research to bring her followers a ray or two of knowledgeable enlightenment. May thanks indeed Ms. J

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