Appalachia

Poison Oak on the Hickory Tree

poison oak vine growing on hickory tree

A few of you commented on the poison oak vine growing up the hickory tree in yesterday’s post.

Luckily the girls aren’t prone to getting poison oak. In fact neither have ever had it which is sort of strange considering they’re highly allergic to a lot of other things—especially Chitter.

I ask The Deer Hunter and he said he could remember having poison oak one time when he was a small boy.

When Paul and I were little he got a case of poison oak in the winter.

We had gravity water in those days and one bitter winter it seemed to stay froze more than thawed. Pap buried the pipe in most places but there were a few places too hard and rocky to dig. He’d build fires along those sections to thaw the water. Paul and I loved to go with him and play by the fires he built. Our favorite part was when the ice finally begin to move out and icicles flowed from the pipe.

We inadvertently burned poison oak vines.

Paul’s case of poison oak was bad and it didn’t seem to be getting any better. Pap took him to the local pediatrician and told her he had poison oak from playing outside in the fires. She said Pap was wrong there was no way he could get poison oak in the winter. After she left the room her nurse looked at Pap and said “She’s crazy as hell that’s poison oak if I’ve ever seen it.”

At that time Pap’s mother was in the hospital in Copper Hill TN. While visiting her Pap took Paul to a doctor down there and they treated him for poison oak.

My older brother Steve gets poison oak every year. He brushes up against the angry plant while installing gas lines and tanks. Over the years he’s become an expert at catching it quick before the spreading itch gets out of hand.

Granny is bad to get poison oak too. She’s always said she’d get it if the wind blew just right.

I’ve had poison oak exactly one time. Pap always thought I had an immunity to it because Granny had a bad case when she was pregnant with me.

Several years back I was working for a dear lady on top of Cherry Mountain in Clay County. I was helping her clean out her over grown flower garden. I didn’t have a wheel barrel or bucket so I carried armfuls of weeds I pulled and cut over to a pile at the edge of the yard.

I worked all morning and then headed off to my next job for another dear lady in Hayesville.

By the next day the insides of both my forearms were red and itchy. I dealt with it for a day or two and then went to get Pap’s opinion. He said “We’ll it looks like poison oak but since you’ve never had it before I’m not sure.”

Brother Steve heard about my plight and he came to look at it. After a quick glance he said “Yep that’s poison oak if I’ve ever seen it.”

I doctored it for a few more days with every home remedy you’ve ever heard of, most of which made the rash highly irritated and inflamed. Finally late one evening I decided I couldn’t deal with the pain and itching anymore and drove myself to urgent care.

The doctor said “Honey you waited about a week too long to come this is one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen.” He gave me a shot and some pain pills and sent me on my way. Twenty-four hours later I was already feeling better and after a few days its was gone except for the scars it left on my arms.

Pap said I must have pulled the plant right as the sap was the strongest in early summer. And since I didn’t wash my arms till late that night it had plenty of time to work itself in. You better believe I washed off good after working in her yard the rest of that summer.

I don’t know the difference between poison oak and poison ivy, but to us it was all poison oak.

At Martins Creek School there was a huge tree way down in one of the fields that had poison oak vines growing on it much like the hickory tree. I remember one year a few kids decided they’d rub against those vines in the hopes of getting out of school. I can’t remember if any of them actually got poison oak or not.

Tipper

hand holding apple

Come cook with me!

MOUNTAIN FLAVORS – TRADITIONAL APPALACHIAN COOKING
Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, August 23 – Saturday, August 29, 2020
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Hank Skewis
    March 22, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    Good old Fels Naptha soap will get rid of the oil. Normal soap just spreads it around. The plant curls up oak trees in our area; Ive seen vines that were 2″ across!

  • Reply
    Gaye Blaine
    March 22, 2020 at 11:32 am

    Poison oak or ivy — take yer pick — will eat me alive. Daddy got some slack water from a welder and I literally bathed in that. An old time remedy. Never saw a saw bones but the itch lasted well over a werk. Mom could pull it up and no problem.

  • Reply
    Frank
    March 22, 2020 at 8:32 am

    Tecnu… I don’t get the rash often, but when I do finish up my gardening, I wash down both my arms and legs with it…haven’t had the rash in quite a few years now…use to get it something terrible… The oils would linger in my pants and shirts that I wore while doing yard chores…so I ended up throwing them in the trash…. I like the idea of using slightly watered down Dawn as a preventive measure…I’ll try it this year as a first-line-of-defense before going out working in the garden and flowerbeds…

  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    March 21, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    Tipper and Quinn, I had never had a problem with it. I often cleared off our property with my hands, pulling it up by the roots My poor husband was not so blessed. He often caught it from being near me. Most of the time, he had to call the Dr. when he got it. My immunity ended suddenly on a sunny, warm day about 13 years ago. As so many times before I had been clearing off a spot for a flower garden. Pulling the vines up by the roots and even chopping some of them up with a hoe. I woke up one morning itching with several bad “patches”. Still not too concerned, I went about my day. That night I had even more spots, until I had a rash every where the oils had touched my skin. I even had it in my eyebrows. After a trip to the doc, a couple of prescriptions, and a stern talking too, I found out, once immune, not always immune. Any one can develop an allergy to it at any time. Even now, I keep a broad distance from it. That is, when it don’t sneak up on me. LOL Had a patient tell me to rub the inside of an old banana peel on the rash to dry it up. It worked for me, not sure if the rash had run its’ course or not, but it did make it more bearable. Be safe and well, everyone.

  • Reply
    tmc
    March 21, 2020 at 7:33 pm

    Google Jewel weed then click on images, you probable got some growing in the ditches around there some where in the summer, it works great on poison oak / ivy, you can actually boil it for the juice and put it in ice cube trays and store it in ziplock bags for later.

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    March 21, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    My grandfather ate the leaves of poison ivy and was immune his whole life. I was too afraid to eat the leaves – figured I would get the rash and blisters inside and die. I have always been very sensitive to poison ivy and developed horrible eye-closing rashes, bottom of feet and between fingers drippy blisters. I planted potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day – just a few days ago. I have a mild case of poison ivy on my forearms. Probably from pulling up vines. Itchy and red. I always heard that jewel weed, which usually grows near poison ivy, is a cure. Never worked for me.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 21, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    You all got me curious again about the difference between poison oak and poison ivy. I have always just said “poison ivy”. Turns out there is not a great deal of difference. According to the map in the USDA Plants Database, the “Atlantic poison oak” and the “eastern poison ivy” share a natural range that is the southern US west through Texas then north through the midwest. Each have the growth forms of; forb/herb, subshrub, shrub but only poison ivy has a vine growth form. So I’m just kinda stuck on knowing poison ivy the vine and knowing to leave the other three-leafed suspects alone whichever they are.

    • Reply
      tmc
      March 21, 2020 at 7:37 pm

      Ron it’s my understanding their the same, when it’s on the ground it’s considered oak, and when it climbs it considered ivy.

  • Reply
    Ken r in SW mo
    March 21, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    I spray poison ivy with bleach to kill it . works as good as weed killer.

  • Reply
    Allison B
    March 21, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Hum…never heard of the deodorant cure, but am going to remember it ‘just in case’. When I was a kid, my Grandma always had my cousins and I wash up good after walks in the woods. Usually used kerosene for chigger bites, too. Last Spring I had the 2nd worst case of poison oak I’ve ever had. Went for a ‘dangerous hike through woods with oak and ivy lurking all about’ 🙂 Should have known better, since now, I’m over half a century old…and the worst case was in 3rd grade, when I touched the leaves off beside the playground at school…but didn’t. In 3rd grade i had to get a shot for clearing it up… last Spring I just suffered and used some topical stuff 🙂 I love walking in the woods. I did so last week…in the same spot as last Spring… but before the poison oak comes to life! Both times I wore long sleeves and jeans…but this time I was more careful, and took a shower afterwards. Lots of smaller breakouts over the years, but maybe I’ve learned the hard way to be more careful! This time it was spider bites that got me, but still, to me that’s not quite as bad!

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    March 21, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    When we were growing up, my brother did some yard work for an elderly lady and burned a pile of brush. Well, he got poison oak from the smoke and it was awful. He was coated with gentian violet which stained everything purple. So you can get it from the smoke. This happened about 50 years ago.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    March 21, 2020 at 11:42 am

    We called it poison oak, too. My nephew got it bad one year on his feet & legs. The blisters were huge and actually pushed his toes apart!

  • Reply
    Thomas Gulledge
    March 21, 2020 at 11:29 am

    When I was a child, I would play in the woods. Poison Oak was a certain by-product of that activity. My Grandmother would treat the Poison Oak with something called Sugar of Lead. She told me to be careful, because Sugar of Lead was poisonous. But it worked, and the rash/blisters would always disappear in short order.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    March 21, 2020 at 11:13 am

    The worst case I can remember getting was when fishing. My wife caught something and couldn’t pull it in. I took her rod and thought she had a turtle. I knew I couldn’t pull it up the bank where she was so I moved to a low sandy spot to walk it up. It was a big catfish that she had snagged behind the dorsal fin. To get to the low spot I had to pass the rod around several trees with vines. I was concentrating on the fish/turtle/tree limb or whatever she had caught and didn’t take notice of the vines until the next day. I had only shorts and shoes on so it covered my upper torso, arms, face and legs.

    One of my sisters got it on her bottom several times and mom couldn’t understand how unless she was sitting in it. She told me to watch her and see if I could find out where/how she was getting it. I saw her squat down to pick and eat strawberries. There were several patches of poison ivy along with the strawberries. Solution: Sis couldn’t have any more strawberries unless someone else picked them.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    March 21, 2020 at 10:48 am

    We had a young lady from Belgium working in my office. On Saturday she helped a friend clear around a house she had just bought. On Sunday she then went to Belgium on a business trip. When she ended up in a doctors office in Belgium from severe rash, they had no idea what was wrong with her. It seems that they don’t have poison oak or ivy in Europe. I think they called to her doctor here in the US to find out what it was.

    Glad to hear the distinction between poison oak and Virginia creeper. I have no problem identifying the leaves but didn’t know about the vines.

    I just looked up about Poison oak in Europe and it doesn’t grow there. There was a comment that a small area in Netherlands had planted poison ivy on a dike for erosion control. I can’t believe that anyone could be that stupid.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    March 21, 2020 at 10:44 am

    I can walk within close proximity to poison Oak and it “Jumps” on me. The worst case I can remember though was once when cutting firewood I failed to look on the back side of a large maple, the saw kicked the juice from a large vine and my arms were covered with a terrible rash which almost itched me to death. I must of used two bottles of Calomine Lotion but it eventually dried the rash up. Ever since then I always check both sides of a tree before laying my saw to it.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    March 21, 2020 at 10:25 am

    Fortunately I don’t get poison ivy very easy and I have lots of it growing on my property. The worse case I ever had was in the winter time after finding a target with my metal detector. I was digging into poison ivy roots unaware. Several yrs. ago I cut a tree for firewood that was covered in poison ivy and had lots of the chips all over me and in my face. I came home and took a shower and took homeopathic Rhus Tox. Never had even one blister. Some health food stores carry it and you can find it on line. It will also help dry up poison ivy, poison oak if you already got the rash.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    March 21, 2020 at 10:09 am

    I am allergic to it. I don’t use no kinds of medicine for mine. Someone told me long time ago to use the spray deodorant . Like Secret. It has a powder in it. I spray it on there 2 or 3 times a day and 3,4 days it’s gone. Works every time.

    • Reply
      JanL
      March 21, 2020 at 11:03 am

      I don’t remember any problem with poison ivy as a child, maybe because my mother used octagon soap on us after working in field, yard, or pasture. I have had poison ivy badly multiple times as an adult, requiring several doctor visits and medication. It hides in my yard, I think. I found a lotion called YardGuard and a poison ivy soap helpful.
      I noticed your reference to wheel barrel. I thought it was wheel barrow… now I will have to check out that word!

      • Reply
        Tipper
        March 21, 2020 at 12:17 pm

        JanL-It is wheel barrow 🙂 The barrel part is the way I say it!

        • Reply
          Ed Ammons
          March 22, 2020 at 10:09 am

          I have always called it a wheelbar. Probably it started as a barrel with a wheel to make it easier to more. So, your pronunciation might just how it was originally.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    March 21, 2020 at 9:53 am

    Almost a half century ago, a buddy I worked with decided to clear a spot behind his house for a garden, and I volunteered to help. It was a warm day, about this time of year, when we set to work on removing some of the thicket and breaking up the soil. There were roots to be pulled up, so I had at it in my tee shirt and jeans. I didn’t take a bath that night.

    The next day, not only did I have rashes on both of my forearms, my entire stomach was covered (slept without a shirt). That night Susan ended up taking me to the emergency room. I was working for Carolina Power & Light at the time, and one of the fellows mentioned that the company had a solution that linemen used to treat poison ivy rashes. It was incredibly quick – totally cleared it up in about three days.

    In one of our several moves since then, I managed to lose it. I wonder if any of your other readers have heard of such.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      March 22, 2020 at 9:51 am

      There is a product called Tecnu that seems to be better than most. It is better at removing the urushiol oil that causes the irritation from your skin. It was developed as cleanser to be used when water wasn’t available for bathing. It’s at CVS and most other drugstores.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    March 21, 2020 at 9:39 am

    Thank God I have never had poison ivy bother me in any way. That’s a good thing, as I have been known to pull it out of my flower beds with my bare hands. My best friend was not so blessed when she cleaned out a fence years ago. Her little 100 pound body looked twice it’s size and the doctors had to cut her wedding band off. My daughter’s friend was helping his daddy burn a pile of vegetation that contained poison ivy when he was a young man. When he got sick, the doctor’s told the family his lungs were infected from breathing the poison ivy as it burned. I don’t know the full story but one lung was eventually removed. That goes to show poison ivy is some dangerous stuff.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 21, 2020 at 9:09 am

    A poison oak vine growing up a tree looks sorta like a long centipede. It has gazillions of little hair like roots that attaches it to the tree like no other vine that I know about does. It hugs tight and close to the tree and if you pull it off, the bottom side is flat. A Virginia creeper looks similar but its vine attaches only at the nodules where it puts out leaves. Poison ivy (oak) will climb to the top of a tree before it puts out leaves. It’s leaves mingle with the leaves on the host tree so that you can’t see it from the ground.
    Burning poison oak is dangerous because the urushiol oil in it gets in the smoke. If you breath in the smoke, you have the irritant inside you where it is difficult to treat.
    I am on a mission to kill all the poison oak and poison ivy I find. I am always ready with my handy dandy sprayer of brush killer. I have been successful in eradicating it from my property but just across the boundary line it grows profusely so I must be ever vigilant. I have even been know to make preemptive strikes into enemy territory in order to maintain a buffer zone or no man’s land if you will.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 21, 2020 at 8:47 am

    I think I am immune to poison ivy. But some immunities wear off with repeated exposure. So I avoid handling it bare-handed. It is scattered around all over here, mixed in among the five-leaf – and harmless – Virginia creeper.

    There is folklore that one can build an immunity to poison ivy by eating a single leaf then increasing the ‘dose’ slowly over time. I do not know if it works and would not recommend it.

  • Reply
    Sheila Lowery
    March 21, 2020 at 8:45 am

    I was extremely allergic to poison ivy as a kid. I would ever get it on my eyelids! I missed camping trips and other family fun because of it. But, after years of shots I haven’t had a case of it in a very long time. Thank the Lord! I can spot poison ivy at a glance!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 21, 2020 at 8:26 am

    Tipper,
    One evening my brother stopped by and wanted to help “clean-off” the garden. I had just got it plowed the day before and the tractor Man couldn’t reach the shew-make beside the creek. We decided to burn all the shew-make and my second oldest brother, Joel started the fire. I cut everything that I could see, knowing that the stuff would come back in a few months. Joel carried that stuff and put it in the fire. That shew-make didn’t bother me, but he got a good dose of it burning, and in a few days he was really broken out. He went to the Doctor and got a shot of something and in a few days, he was alright. The Doctor warned Joel about burning the Sumac trees. (Sometimes my Spell-check doesn’t work.) …Ken

  • Reply
    Quinn
    March 21, 2020 at 8:17 am

    Maybe a useful tip: I started carrying a little bottle of watered-down Dawn dish soap in my field pack, for when I came in contact with poison ivy. The idea is to break down the “poison” oils as soon as possible after contact, and it might be many hours before I would be near a washroom. The watered-down Dawn worked as well for me as the much costlier “poison ivy” soaps.
    Sorry I’m writing a novel in your comments today, Tipper!

    • Reply
      Tipper
      March 21, 2020 at 10:12 am

      Quinn-comment as much as you want too-we all enjoy your comments 🙂

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 21, 2020 at 7:53 am

    Ah posion ivy, as we called it is a dear friend. I have had it every year since a small child. I am like Granny if the wind isblowing from the right direction I get it. When a kid it was from climbing trees. My cousin had a huge hickery tree growing in her yard. Her daddy nailed some steps for us to get to the first branch. Ee stayed on that tree all day. Of course I am from FL so the added bonus of chiggers was ever present in the moss thst dripped off her. We called them red bugs

  • Reply
    Quinn
    March 21, 2020 at 7:11 am

    I was never affected by poison ivy – and I’ve always spent much of my time outdoors – until I was about 40, then – whammo! I was working for the Audubon Society at wildlife sanctuaries at the time, and asking around it turned out that it’s not at all unusual to become sensitive to it after years of not having any reaction at all. Another employee had always been the one to deal with removing poison ivy from trails, etc., because it didn’t bother him. Unfortunately, he found out that it was going to bother him from now on, after he used one of those string-trimmers to do some weeding and there was poison ivy in the mix of weeds. He had a terrible case of poison ivy after that, and like me, was sensitive to it from then on.
    I knew another fellow who ended up in the hospital after hanging his backpack on a tree – in winter – not realizing that the vine growing up the truck was poison ivy. In fact, it was only when I pointed out a vine in winter that he finally realized how he had come into contact with the poison ivy years before.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      March 21, 2020 at 10:47 am

      Quinn, I too know of a similar case of losing immunity to poison ivy. My Father-In -Law never had poison ivy until he was 72 yrs. old and became sick. My Dad never knew the itch of poison ivy or chiggers and far as I know was still immune at 85.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 21, 2020 at 7:03 am

    In your picture I can see the rope looking vine going up the tree but I would never have been able to identify it as poison oak or ivy. We always just called it poison ivy regardless, they itched the same. I’ve had a few cases in my life. I was always in the woods.
    It always seemed that fair skinned people were more susceptible, and I’m fair skinned.
    We were always warned to look out for the poison ivy when we went blackberry picking. Blackberry picking had a lot of warnings to go with it. Watch for snakes in the blackberry patch, watch for poison oak/ivy and the totally unseen and ever present danger of…..chiggers!
    Chiggers were always the greatest danger for me, I had a really bad reaction to them. After summer trips out in the fields or woods I was immediately dowsed in a bathtub of water with lots of salt to kill the chiggers.

    • Reply
      Linda
      March 21, 2020 at 8:19 am

      An elderly lady from church told me as a child her Mama would wrap kerosene soaked rags around wrists and ankles before picking blackberries.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    March 21, 2020 at 4:43 am

    Your post has one of my two least favorite parts of Summer. The other is Yellow Jackets. I have seen poison ivy on my wood, but fortunately never catch it in Winter. Every time I clear a front flower bed I get poison ivy even with gloves. I have found is minimal if I go straight in and scrub arms and legs with either Lava soap or soap especially for the poison ivy. I do not like weeds in my flowers, so I suppose I am stuck with this problem. Doctors do not always get it right with rashes, because they are hard to diagnose. They were unable to figure out what happened when an entire wing of us nurses developed a terrible rash on wrists. Scrapings did not help diagnose, and most of them had never seen Scabies.My dad took one look at mine and said, “Young’un, you got the itch.” Seems he learned all anout that serving in the military in close quarters in WW11.

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