Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Poison ivy

The woods near my house are cool and quiet this time of year. All is buried beneath a blanket of leaves, and the weak winter sunlight streams easily through the bare tree branches.

Nowhere to be seen is the scourge of summertime, poison ivy. Its leaves are gone but its living roots sleep beneath the soil, waiting for warmth to spread forth again its deadly bouquet of beauty.

For poison ivy is a lovely plant -- thus does it fool many the neophyte. If not for its nasty itch factor, it would surely be sold in every garden center and happily cultivated around the world.

Your dog can gleefully roll in poison ivy. A goat can eat it. Birds gorge themselves on the berries. But you, poor human, cannot even so much as touch the damn leaves unless you really enjoy scratching your skin to shreds.

Why?

We share this sensitivity only with our closest cousins in the primate world.

Apparently, at some point in our common evolution we must have picked up a gene for ivy-misery that lower forms of life do not have. How, I wonder, when the stuff, native to America, predates the arrival of humans to these shores, and no other higher primates even live here (in North America) outside of zoos and maybe Bigfoot.

Evolution, genetics, chemistry ... life is rich with so many questions that no one has answered yet.

2 comments:

Janice Thomson said...

We don't have poison ivy here in this particular spot. We do have nettles that itch like heck though.

The big rage here is to use datura which grows wild here, for dope - it's a hallucinatory drug made from the seeds I believe and the leaves can be used too. Problem is it's very poisonous too - a few kids have died from incorrect processing of it.

Kat said...

I would love to have your nettles Janice... they are the host plant for a lovely butterfly: the Red Admiral...
so I hope you will live and let live with your nettles :-) as they provide beauty in a roundabout way!

as for Poison Ivy... I am somewhat immune... still I treat it with caution, never knowing just when/if that immunity will vanish. Once, having to dig out lovely trilliums on a slope due to be developed, a friend and I braved all the poison ivy covering the slope... we had to be able to feel barehanded in the soils to be sure we got all of the delicate plant's parts ... neither of us developed any rash (we made sure to wash up afterwards at the nearest bathroom we could find)