This week's edition of "Traplines on Cypress Creek" discusses the dangers poison ivy poses to weed pickers, as well as dismisses some of the myths about the harmful plant.


Most people look for crocus and daffodils as the first sign of spring. Around here, I look for chickweed, and from the looks of my lawn, spring has definitely arrived.

I’ve already heard a few horror stories about folks getting an “early start.” As most of the housing areas in central Delaware at one time were farm fields and woods, I’d caution many of you to be careful in your weed pulling.

Poison ivy is an indigenous plant around here and is often completely ignored. It is a hardy plant that can and often does grow along fences and privacy walls. Young plants quickly develop and spread across the ground. Often what looks like an individual plant is but a shoot from suckers it’s sending out. In heavier woodlots, the vine attaches to a tree and grows to the canopy for sunlight. Most “grapevines” in Delaware aren’t. They’re mature poison ivy vines and the early fall is the quickest indicator of their presence.

Poison ivy is the first leaves to turn brilliant red. “Leaves of three: let them be” was the warning I got as a kid. It’s still a good indicator as well. Looking quite similar to the Virginia creeper and sometimes mistaken for the trumpet creeper, pulling the plants can lead to misery in the worst case scenarios.

The plant contains urushiol, a chemical that causes skin to blister and itch maddeningly. Once contacted, there’s no “cure” and the only option is to let it run its course. Many animals are immune to it as are humans at birth. It’s the successive contact that causes the reaction in 90% of us. There are topical ointments and dressings that can give temporary relief, but they do no remove the irritation completely. People who are highly sensitive may require hospital treatment.

Contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not contagious. The blisters that form are from a chemical burn and will not infect anyone the liquid touches. That blister is filled with water as any other blister and not with urushiol. If you contracted it from someone else, it was because you touched residual urushiol that was on them or their clothing, not the blisters.

Another sure sign is the robins singing and the red-winged blackbirds establishing territories. This is the season of regeneration and the wild world is alive with courtships, mating, and young birds and animals appearing.

I got a chuckle last week from an article I happened across on the Internet. It was titled “Why do mallards have orange feet?” As surprising as it may be, Kevin Omland is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County who did a doctoral thesis on this phenomenon. Though his findings meandered all over to include sexual appeal of ducks within the species and comparisons to the blue footed booby of the South Pacific, the inevitable answer was: “just because.”

What I found particularly amusing was that he’d researched if female mallards were more attracted to brighter footed males. Those of you who’ve been around mallards know that the females “attraction” is one trait unlikely to be considered. If you’ve seen breeding females literally attacked by groups of males, you know applying human characteristics to ducks isn’t in the realm of realism. A male mallard would mate a decoy if it were close by, so I’m positive the color of their feet has nothing to do with it and I’m not writing a thesis.

Most of us are chomping at the bit to get outside and become active again. The “young’uns” among us won’t even bother to think about dashing into it full bore, but for us older folks, please take it slow to begin with. Muscles and bone joints that haven’t been used during this long past winter won’t just react well if pushed too quickly. Everything in moderation is still a good phrase to remind yourselves. Be safe and enjoy the warming weather.