No, this isn't about politics. Since I have noticed Instagram posts going by about plant collection I thought I would talk about plants that look like other plants and for those out collecting to confuse them will come to no good end.
Let's talk about Virginia Creeper and our buddy Poison Ivy. Both are listed in The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms. A book, by the way, if read from cover to cover might inspire some to never leave the house again! It includes plants like tomato, potato, onions, garlic, and most of the peppers, not to mention things like tobacco and marijuana. They do point out that if one only consumes what is the generally accept edible part of the plant and only in normal food quantities there should be no problem. In other words, if you were thinking about using tomato or potato leaves on a salad-DON'T-they are poisonous nightshades! They have nothing good to say about tobacco or marijuana at all, which to some might seem kind of judgemental, but I digress. So, it is important to do some study from reliable sources to know what you should never touch in any way and what is ok to do and under what circumstances.
Starting with poison ivy, the reason it is so poisonous is that it contains a combination of urushiols in every single part of it from root to tip. These chemicals, also found in poison oak and poison sumac (not to be confused with Staghorn or Bald Sumac which are trees), are a severe allergen to most all humans. The severity of the reaction is like a lot of allergies, it can be severe at one time in life, fade away and can come roaring back later on. Even the dried leaves or stems clinging to burning firewood can cause those that inhale it to go into anaphylaxis and touching the dried foliage in leaf litter can lead to a nasty blistering rash. It is even possible to spread the urushiols around in the washing machine, giving your blistering rash to everybody else in the house! So, needless to say, this would not be a plant one would want to dye or eco print with-EVER!!!
|Here is an ideal shot of poison ivy up close. The problem with pictures like this is that "ideal" is not how nature grows. The amount of rain, sunlight or soil conditions can make plants in the same area look very different from one another. There is also a western version (pictured here) and an eastern one. When green, I think they look like wilted philodendron vines and it can be really hard to see the "leaves of three" that you are supposed to let be, so it is important to become familiar with what plants look like throughout the year. |
|This is Virginia Creeper, also a native plant. As you can see the leaf shape is very different from poison ivy. It has five leaflets and in this case, it is much lighter in color. Once again, this varies from plant to plant quite a bit. This well watered marauder is trying to take over the corner of my yard, with less water it would be more the same color as the poison ivy pictured above, it may have lost leaflets throughout the year, so might appear to have "leaves of three" as the old saying goes.|
So, if you spend a lot of time on social media pages about botanical printing or searching for such things on Pinterest, you may have noticed that people talk about using Virginia Creeper. But wait, it's listed as a poisonous plant-right? Well, yes. There is an apparently verified death of child from eating the berries (just because birds eat berries doesn't mean we should) and in the process of trying to figure out what the chemical compounds are in the berries (apparently they still don't know), they have managed to send some lab animals to their great reward. So if you wear gloves, wash your hands and keep it out of your mouth it puts it on par with many other dye plants, a lot of which can be somewhat gnarly. My personal experience with it is that with pre applied rust to silk it can make a really nice print, but getting the uncooperative little leaf to lay flat is a rather frustrating experience. I have never tried to make a dye with it. While I have come across some lovely shots of simmering pots full of color, the sites that I go to for solid info say it isn't a very substantive dye and from what I can see you have to use some of the more wicked mordants to get anything at all. Since I put a limit on what mordants I use, Virginia Creeper dye will probably never be in my future.
|This is a stand of poison ivy growing over by the Spokane River. |
|This mass of uninvited Virginia Creeper is in my yard. I waited a few days for it to get to the really maroon shade so you could see just how easy it would to be confuse the two at a distance. Oh! And did I mention they twine around each other out in the wild? They like the same growing conditions and so if you are going to experiment with Virginia Creeper make sure there isn't something else lurking in there with it.|