Poison ivy is flourishing on area trails due to excess rain

Poison ivy warning signs along Lady Bird Lake. Courtesy of Photojournalist Frank Martinez.
Poison ivy warning signs along Lady Bird Lake. Courtesy of Photojournalist Frank Martinez.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Encouraged by late August rains, poison ivy is abundant this fall.

Poison ivy, known as a pioneer plant, loves disturbed soil. The weed has been thriving due to weather patterns this year. Spring rains started the process for this deciduous plant. Things dried out a little in the summer, which should have kept numbers down this fall.

Areas along the Hike and Bike Trail near Lady Bird Lake are brimming with the plant. Though there are some signs posted, in a lot of instances, the ivy is only inches away from the trail.

The edges of man-made trails are perfect spots for poison ivy to bloom, says Neil Schmidt, Education Coordinator and Staff Horticulturist of the Natural Gardener. “You’ve created this break, which allows the light to come through, but you’ve also created this disturbance.”

Experts say knowing how to recognize the poisonous plant is the best prevention. And, if you see one set of “leaves of three,” you can guarantee it’s not the only one in the vicinity, as the ivy grows across forest floors and up trees.

Kara Sampson walks the Hike and Bike Trail two to three times a week with her dog, Kota. She’s been lucky so far, but she knows people who have gotten a poison ivy rash.

“My friend Carl actually about a month ago got it,” said Sampson. “I think he was at Red Bud…and he got it really bad. He had to wrap up his arms and everything.”

Kara knows that dogs aren’t affected by poison ivy’s sap, but dogs can still transfer to humans once its on their coats. She’s keeping Kota on a short leash.

“It makes me nervous like if she touches it and I go and pet her and it rubs off on me.”

It’s also the time of the year where kids love to pick pretty leaves. Remind children not to touch leaves they don’t recognize; there’s a chance it could be poison ivy. As it turns cooler, poison ivy leaves turn yellow and bright red.

According to Schmidt, “every year, around Central Texas, the best fall color is usually poison ivy.”

The City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department uses herbicides to kill off excessive poison ivy growth, but it usually doesn’t interfere in “natural” areas. The City did partner with the non-profit Austin Parks Foundation two years ago on a pilot project to have goats eat the extra foliage, but the project has not been taken up since that time.

Colin Wallis with the Austin Parks Foundation says that requirements on public land and finding reliable goat herders were the biggest hurdles.

Read more about that project here.

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