A Climber's Guide to Tree Inspection

Poison Ivy

Eastern poison ivy vineEastern poison ivy. The
vine is very hairy.

Pacific poison oak

Pacific poison oak has the
same toxic properties as
Eastern poison ivy.

Poison ivy can occur as a ground cover or as a creeping vine in a tree. It is charac­ter­ized by its compound leaf structure, divided into three leaflets. The vine stem clings closely to the tree and is covered with fine, reddish brown fibrous root hairs that appear furry when compared to other vines. The separate twigs that support the leaves often grow straight out from the trunk of the tree in a ninety degree angle up to three feet (1 meter). In the spring, poison ivy bears white, berry-like fruits which are eaten by birds but are poisonous to man. The leaves turn a bright red color in the fall before falling off. All parts of the poison ivy plant contain a volatile resin that can cause severe skin inflammation, itching and blistering. People who are hyperallergic react violently, necessitating a visit to the emergency room at a hospital due to throat and eye swelling.

Take precautions if you suspect poison ivy in the area. Put your gear on a ground tarp when you take it out. Use a rope bag during your ascent and descent to prevent rope contact with the poison ivy. Some sensitive climbers get good results from coating their skin with preventative salves prior to a climb.

If you suspect exposure, do not try to wash off poison ivy with hot water! The heat opens the skin pores and may aggravate more than help the situation. Instead, wash thoroughly using cold water as soon as possible. The effects of poison ivy can often be avoided if you wipe yourself with rubbing alcohol or other specialized solutions, which act as a solvent to remove the irritating resins, before a skin reaction occurs. Don't leave home without it!

Important: Before you venture out, always ask your climbing team if anyone is especially allergic to poison ivy. You can choose another climbing tree or have your partner prepare by wearing long sleeved shirts and taking other preventive measures.

Finally, you can spread the toxic poison ivy resin by exposure to infected articles like clothing, shoes, and climbing rope. Wash all ropes that have been exposed to poison ivy. Use a mild detergent that does not contain bleach. You could cause a severe reaction to yourself or others who may use your rope months later.

by Peter “Treeman” Jenkins
Founder of TCI and ISA-Certified Arborist

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