Poison Ivy: A Winter Study
Most people fear this itch master, but this plant offers a lot of value to wildlife. Berry loving birds thrive on it. Bees are attracted to the blooms. Several mammals browse the foliage and 15 species of moths either host or use it to protect their larvae while they pupate.
This productive plant produced dense clusters of fruit in summer months that are eaten by over 60 species of birds, including bluebirds, woodpeckers, warblers, robins, chickadees, tufted titmouse, cedar waxwings, flickers and eastern phoebe. Not only does poison ivy service birds but deer, squirrels, rabbits, turkeys, and if you live in an agricultural area, goats, browse the foliage, twigs and berries.
While hand clearing invasive species from our woods, I came across some very well-establish poison ivy climbing up a towering tree. Just look at the breadth of those vines.
The vines cling so securely they almost seem to be part of the tree. Climbing poison ivy uses trees (or any upright structure) as a means to reach the sun. And these vines are champion climbers, growing until they run out of vertical surface to hold on to. Limbs can extend out as far as 8 feet, often appearing to be part of the tree.
Examine the photo above and below and take a close look at all those limbs. None belong to the tree. They are all lateral limbs from the vine!
Poison ivy is probably most recognized by its leaf pattern but can be easily identified in winter when all the aerial roots are exposed (not covered with foliage). The adventitious roots give the appearance of a fuzzy rope twining up the tree trunk when in fact they are holding the vine steadily in place.
While I admit this is a tough plant to love, its value to wildlife is unquestionable, the diversity of birds it attracts is huge, and the stunning fall color is supreme. This is reason enough for me to keep this mammoth vine. Now, I just need to remember to enjoy all it has to offer from a safe distance.
For an introduction to Poison Ivy and tips on identifying this plant be sure to visit The Infinite Spider.