Nearly everyone is familiar with the unpleasant effects produced by contact with this treacherous and exceedingly poisonous vine, which has undoubtedly caused more harm to mankind than all other plants together. The actual poison has been traced to a powerful, nonvolatile oil contained in all parts of the plant, and which retains its baneful activities throughout every month in the year. Now and again we hear of persons being immune to its attack, but it is a mooted subject and its ill effects vary greatly from mild to severe. The writer recalls an occasion when both eyes were closed for a day or two by the swelling caused by the effects of this poison. And singularly enough, he has subsequently handled all parts of the plant at all seasons without experiencing the slightest infection. It is an uncertain privilege, however, and it is always highly advisable to avoid it altogether. The poison first manifests itself by an inflamed irritation of the affected part of the skin. Tiny blisters immediately succeed a burning sensation. They spread and increase rapidly in size and number until the itching and swelling finally becomes very unpleasant. Frequent applications of a strong solution of weakened alcohol and powdered sugar of lead, well rubbed into the affected part, will usually relieve the discomfort at once and prevent the spreading of the poison. This lead solution is very poisonous if taken internally. When the redness first appears, a thorough washing of the affected part with strong, hot soapsuds is recommended. Cold water will not dissolve the poisonous oil.
This thrifty, climbing woody vine is very prolific, and grows abundantly everywhere throughout its range. It is commonly found in thickets and along country highways, fences and woodland borders, where the dense foliage covers everything it clings to. It climbs readily by numerous aerial rootlets, but is quite as frequently found low-growing, erect and bushy. The shining green leaf is composed of three smooth, broad, pointed-oval and short-stemmed leaflets, which are plainly ribbed and have either regular or irregular margins. These three leaflets are set on the end of a long, slender stem. The stem of the centre leaflet is longer than those of the other two. During May and June numerous small, fragrant, yellowish-green flowers appear in densely clustered spikes which grow from the axils of the leaf stems. They are succeeded in the fall by many smooth, white, waxy berries which often remain through the winter months. The Virginia Creeper is generally confused with the Poison Ivy, but can always be distinguished from the latter by its slender-pointed, coarsely toothed and usually five-parted leaf and also by its spreading clusters of blue berries. Poison Ivy yields a milky juice which turns black when exposed and imparts an indelible stain to fabrics. In the fall the foliage of this plant turns to beautiful shades of yellow and scarlet and becomes very attractive and decorative. It ranges from Nova Scotia and British Columbia to Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Utah.