Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Episode 535 (7-27-20): Exploring Water Connections to Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

Click to listen to episode (5:14)

Sections below are the following:

Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 7-24-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of July 27, 2020.

MUSIC – ~ 9 sec – instrumental

This week, we feature music named for a plant that you could encounter on an outing to almost any watery or dry habitat in Virginia; and if that encounter involved touching the plant, you’d want to find some soap and clean water promptly.  Have a listen to the music for about 30 more seconds, and see if you know this widespread and wisely avoided plant.

MUSIC - ~30 sec – instrumental

If you guessed Poison Ivy, you’re right!  You’ve been listening to part of “Concerning Toxicodendron radicans Part II,” by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand, on the 2007 album “A Certain Tree.”  Toxicodendron radicans is the scientific name for Poison Ivy, one of four species in the Toxicodendron genus found in Virginia, according to the Flora of Virginia.  The other species are Poison Oak, Poison Sumac, and Western Poison Ivy, the latter known only from two Blue Ridge counties.  Poison Oak, Poison Sumac, and Poison Ivy have interesting water-related habitat differences: Poison Oak’s typical habitat is dry and rocky or sandy, most commonly in Virginia’s Coastal Plain; Poison Sumac’s typical habitat is wet, including swamps, bogs, and other wetlands, again usually in the Coastal Plain; while Poison Ivy is found in many kinds of dry and wet habitats, and is common throughout Virginia.

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak both have leaves with a characteristic three leaflets, but Poison Sumac leaves have 7 to 13 leaflets.

The species share the characteristic oil, called urushiol, that can cause a red, itchy skin inflammation.  Direct contact with leaves, stems, and roots can transfer the oil onto one’s skin, clothes, tools, and pets, and very small amounts of the oil can cause skin reactions.  Oil on a surface can remain active for months, or even years, according to some sources.  Burning these plants can release the oil which, if inhaled, can cause severe respiratory reactions.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends the following treatment for skin exposure to the oil:
“Immediately [wash] skin with rubbing alcohol, specialized washes for poison plants, degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap), or detergent, and lots of water.
Rinse frequently so that [the] wash solutions [don’t] dry on the skin and further spread the [oil].
[And] Scrub under [the] nails with a brush.” The Institute recommends getting emergency medical help in case of a severe reaction, such as swelling or difficulty breathing, or if a person has had a severe reaction previously.

Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac are native Virginia plants and have their ecological place; but here’s to outings where your place and theirs don’t mix.  Thanks to Andrew VanNorstrand for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with about 20 more seconds of “Concerning Toxicodendron radicans Part II.”

MUSIC - ~20 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


“Concerning Toxicodendron radicans Part II,” on the 2007 album “A Certain Tree,” is copyright by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand and Great Bear Records, used with permission.  Information about Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand is available online at http://www.andrewandnoah.com/andrewandnoah/dev/ and at https://andrewandnoah.bandcamp.com/.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode. More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


Poison Ivy, Montgomery County, Va., July 26, 2020.

Poison Oak, Jacksonville, N.C., April 26 2020.  Photo by user terrio5toe, made available on iNaturalist at https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/43706143 (as of 7-27-20) for use under Creative Commons license “Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0.”  Information about this Creative Commons license is available online at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

Poison Sumac, Isle of Wight County, Virginia, September 4, 2012.  Photo by Tim Hammer, made available on iNaturalist at https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/36947155 (as of 7-27-20) for use under Creative Commons license “Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0.”  Information about this Creative Commons license is available online at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.


The following information is from “NIOSH Fact Facts: Protecting Yourself from Poisonous Plants,” from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, accessed online at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-118/default.html, 7/27/20.

“Any person working outdoors is at risk of exposure to poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. When in contact with skin, the sap oil (urushiol) of these plants can cause an allergic reaction.  Burning these poisonous plants produces smoke that, when inhaled, can cause lung irritation.  [People] may become exposed through [the following ways]:
Direct contact with the plant;
Indirect contact (touching tools, animals, or clothing with urushiol on them);
Inhalation of particles containing urushiol from burning plants.

Symptoms of Skin Contact

Red rash within a few days of contact;
Possible bumps, patches, streaking or weeping blisters NOTE: Blister fluids are not contagious.

First Aid

If you are exposed to a poisonous plant:

Immediately rinse skin with rubbing alcohol, poison plant wash, or degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap) or detergent, and lots of water.  Rinse frequently so that wash solutions do not dry on the skin and further spread the urushiol. Scrub under nails with a brush.

Apply wet compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and blistering (oatmeal baths may relieve itching).

An antihistamine may help relieve itching. NOTE: Drowsiness may occur.

In severe cases or if the rash is on the face or genitals, seek professional medical attention.

Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room if you have a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or difficulty breathing, or have had a severe reaction in the past.

Protect Yourself

Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves. Wash exposed clothing separately in hot water with detergent.

Barrier skin creams, such as lotion containing bentoquatum, may offer some protection.

After use, clean tools with rubbing alcohol or soap and lots of water. Urushiol can remain active on the surface of objects for up to 5 years. Wear disposable gloves during this process.

Do not burn plants or brush piles that may contain poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac.

Inhaling smoke from burning plants can cause severe allergic respiratory problems.”


Jim Dunphy, “Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center,” online at https://poisonivy.aesir.com/view/welcome.html.

Mayo Clinic, “Poison Ivy Rash,” online at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/poison-ivy/symptoms-causes/syc-20376485.

Amy Painter, Help a Virginia Tech science superhero put an end to poison ivy, Virginia Tech News, 10/23/17.

Texas Department of Insurance/Division of Workers’ Compensation, “Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac FactSheet,” online (as a PDF) at https://www.iwu.edu/physical-plant/tailgate/grounds-tailgate/april-poison-ivy-oak-sumac.pdf).

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Poisonous Plants,” online at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/plants/default.html.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Natural Resources Conservation Service Plants Database:
“Toxicodendron,” online at https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=TOXIC;
“Eastern Poison Ivy,” online at https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=tora2;
“Atlantic Poison Oak,” online at https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=TOPU2;
“Poison Sumac,” online at https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=TOVE.

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation/Natural Heritage Division, online at https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/.

Virginia Native Plant Society, online at http://vnps.org/.

A.S. Weakley, J.C. Ludwig, and J.F. Townsend, Flora of Virginia, Bland Crowder, ed.  Copyright by the Foundation of the Flora of Virginia Project, Inc., Richmond.  Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth, 2012.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Plants” subject category.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Virginia natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
4.4 – basic plant anatomy and processes.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Virginia watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.4 – organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Biology Course
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.