The French have their say about poison ivy


by Susan
Remember reading about a French horticultural magazine covering the native North American plant poison ivy?  They used my photo of the Poison Ivy Rights League in my town Poisonivy(with permission), sent me copies, I solicited a translator and actually got one – Vertie at Vert Austin.   Well, her translation is in.

The article in question, "North
America, a Poisoner in
the Woods!" is a long plant profile, filled with history and taxonomy and some interesting tidbits:

  • "One is never safe from a meeting with poison ivy,
    even in one’s own garden or it can appear in a bed of flowers
    or shrubs."
  • "The vines apparently do not hurt the object they
  • "It is
    used in the fabrication of medicines, tattoos, culinary preparation and as a
    dye for American Indian cloths and baskets. The plant was also introduced in
    Holland, in 1919, to maintain the dykes in the
    southwestern part of the province of

Then adjacent to the photo of the poison rights activists (actually, people making fun of the sometimes wacky activists in my town) we find the heading "An Organized Battle Against Poison Ivy In Canada." We’re told that towns in Canada have labeled it a noxious weed, and methods of eradication are detailed.  Then:Poisonivy300

"The readers of La Garance might be astonished to read in our
columns these strong recommendations for fighting poison ivy. It is far from us
to promote the destruction of an indigenous species, and above all with the help of chemical products, but the situation of the poison ivy seems unique in North America. 

"Numerous displays present the
plant’s dangers and even more numerous are the proposed products to win the
battle. In the eyes of some, the excessive reactions have even encouraged the
lovers of wild gardens to take up its defense in symbolic manifestations!"

That’s where the photo of the July 4th Parade marchers comes in – to illustrate that point.  But hey, even parade onlookers were puzzled – is it real or is it street theater? – so it’s no surprise that the little joke was misinterpreted.

Because bloggers rarely pass up the chance to do a little color commentary, Vertie adds her 2 bits:

"In other parts of the magazine, I
loved that even a French gardening magazine has a topless woman (albeit a
drawing) in it; she is illustrating its story of the tree that ate people in
Madagascar. I also liked the brief story about the Italians’ attempts to
turn annuals into perennials. In particular they want to turn eggplants into
trees. They fused cells from the eggplant into those of a closely related tree."

She also wonders why one of the French names for poison ivy is "herbe a la puce", which translates to "weed of the flea."

And she concludes: "I never knew poison ivy could be so
interesting."   Me, neither.  And many thanks to Vertie for putting her language skills to work for us!

Back in the USA, the Missouri Botanical Garden outlines our choices for poison ivy eradication as sheep, goats, or herbicides.  Credit for the plant photo here is theirs.


  1. I seem to recall that poison ivy was not a problem before clear-cutting. The berries are a source of food for many birds, and the vines only grow to monster size when no longer contained by the shade of forests. (Thank those pilgrim ancestors for that.) Then, of course, you have situations as one friend of mine had, when going to consult for a landscaping job, of the owners saying, “The only plant we want to keep is that beautiful vine”, while pointing to the poison ivy they’d carefully nurtured around their swimming pool.

  2. Very nice, Susan. And LOL about the dike v. dyke discussion, although dyke is an alternate spelling, and the one in the French-English dictionary I used.

    In a book I was reading on attracting birds and butterflies, it mentioned that if you aren’t allergic to poison ivy, you should keep it as more than 60 species of birds and mammals consume its berries.

    Obviously, I now know enough about poison ivy to bore people at parties for years!

  3. If only the deer liked poison ivy as much as goats. Perhaps the Italians could develop poison ivy eating deer to go along with the eggplant tree.

  4. Strong points about poison (oak):

    1) The FALL COLOR!! I will always be jolted back to my CA roots by the palette of flaming scarlet red poison oak contrasting with pale wheaten dried meadow grass and black oak trucks, against a baby-blue sky. Gorgeous!

    2) The berries are extremely nutritious to the birds. Especially the Hermit Thrush, one of my faves.

    Just for fun: There is a look-alike, non-irritating species called Rhus Trilobata (try Wayside Gardens.) It’s got the great fall colors and is a dead ringer for the real thing, tee-hee. Of course I have a bunch growing, just for old times sake!

  5. This just in from the French writer of the article after he received the link to this post: The “Garance voyageuse” is not a horticutural magazine, but a botanical magazine. we speak about wild plants, natural vegetations, traditional uses, ecology, nature’preservation, antical or mythological aspects…

  6. I’ll never forget laughing out loud in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris when I came across a carefully marked example of common burdock. It was late September, and there were the burrs of my childhood, cultivated! Tickled me to no end.

    I’m one of the lucky ones who isn’t allergic to either poison ivy or poison oak — made for a blissful childhood in the woods of northern Illinois. But I had a good friend who wound up in hospital for a week after inhaling burning poison ivy oil from a burning brush pile. Can be quite scary.

  7. I’ll never forget my friend Ron who thought he was immune to poison ivy. He and I shared the same first job, caring for horses and goats and doing yardwork at a nearby property. One day we were sent to clear out a patch of weeds near some trees. Being “immune” to poison ivy Ron went in with a weed whip — he ended up in the hospital and out of school for a week.

    I realize this has nothing to do with this post, but it was a fun story.

  8. All those in favor of poison ivy can sign up to help me out as I now wake up almost every hour of the night to re-apply Rhuli to the blistering itchy rash.

    Anyone know how to prevent getting the rash?

    It is pretty in the fall and easier to find to eradicate in the garden.

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