Weed of the Week

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Since we missed some weed weeks, we will do three this week! Has anyone seen these guys climbing around?

First off, we have Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). This NC native is a deciduous, woody, vine that has five glossy leaflets. The leaves of this plant are not poisonous and will not cause you to have a rash, like poison oak or ivy. However, if the fruit of Virginia creeper is eaten, symptoms can be fatal. The good news is the small, bluish-black fruit of this vine are usually hidden by the foliage throughout the summer, only becoming visible in fall when the leaves drop. Virginia creeper has great fall color and is becoming something homeowners are choosing to keep around if they are wanting a viney climber. Because it is a native and it grows fairly quickly, Virginia creeper is a good alternative to replace non-native vines (like English ivy or Chinese wisteria) that invade natural areas and choke out other plants. It does flower from May to July, but they are not showy. However, they do attract pollinators and its fruit is eaten by squirrels, opossum, & birds. Virginia creeper is moderately deer tolerant and also tolerates salt & pollution. If let to climb, be sure it’s not up the house or trees because it has little “holdfasts” that help it stick to everything. These holdfasts remind me of the sticky feet of tree frogs. They can be hard to remove, leaving marks in paint and can even damage gutters if left for too long.

Virginia Creeper image

Figure 1: Virginia Creeper

image of Virginia creeper holdfasts

Figure 2: Virginia creeper holdfasts

Next off we have poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). This is a woody, climbing vine with three shiny leaflets. The middle leaf extends further than the ones on either side and leaflet edges can be rounded to serrated. The vine is covered in hairs called “aerial roots” that help it stick to and climb other trees or surfaces. ALL PARTS of this plant are POISONOUS, including the roots! It contains a toxic oil called urushiol that causes a rash in most people. If this is burned, the toxin can also be harmful to those breathing in the smoke. Although poison ivy is an invasive species to NC, it has significant benefits to wildlife and can be left alone if not bothering humans. Pollinators love the small insignificant flowers while birds, reptiles, deer, and small mammals eat the plant parts.

image of poison ivy

Figure 3: Poison ivy

Poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens) is a NC native that looks similar to poison ivy with 3 leaflets and hairs/ aerial roots all over the plant. Poison oak is shrubbier rather than vine-like, has hair on the undersides of its leaflets, and usually always has lobed or serrated edges (making it look like an oak tree leaf). ALL PARTS of this plant are POISONOUS, including the roots. It contains the same toxin as in poison ivy (urushiol) that causes a rash in most people and should not be burned. Birds are attracted to this fruit as well.

image of poison oak

Figure 4: Poison oak

If in a high traffic area for humans, control methods for both poison ivy and poison oak include hand pulling and mowing. If you are allergic to the urushiol oil, this can be a big challenge. The best way to protect yourself (if you have to remove these plants manually) is to wear protective clothing and gloves. When you’re done, take your gloves/clothes off carefully as to not get any oil that would have stuck to them on your skin and stick them in the washer by themselves. Then, wash your hands in cool water and then shower in cool water. You can come back later with some throw away gloves to clean your tools with some rubbing alcohol so no oils will be left on them the next time you need them. If you still end up having a rash, over the counter products like Ivarest or calamine lotion can help soothe the irritation and help dry it out.

Herbicide applications for poison oak and poison ivy can be applied in summer with chemicals like 2,4-D, dicamba, or glyphosate. Virginia creeper can also be controlled by hand pulling or with herbicide application of glyphosate, Finale, and Gramoxone in late summer to first fall color.

Just remember to read all the label instructions with whichever chemical you choose. If you need any help or have questions about how/when to apply, or which chemicals you can use and where, just call our office! We will be happy to help!

Also, if spraying near anything flowering (example: clover), try not to spray the flowers so you don’t harm any foraging pollinators. You can do this by mowing the flower tops off prior to your application, just being careful where you spray, or if you have to spray any flowers, spray later in the day when pollinators are no longer out.