Frank specializes in close-up photographs of flowers. I love this beautiful shot of a delicate cluster of poison ivy flowers.
Yes. Poison ivy has flowers.
Dainty and delicate, lovely flowers that, yes, will give you a lovely rash if you’re allergic to urushiol, the irritating chemical found in almost all parts of the poison ivy plant.
Poison ivy flowers are rich in nectar and very attractive to bees. Fortunately for honey-lovers, there’s no urushiol in poison ivy nectar or pollen, so eating poison ivy honey is not a problem. In fact, if you like honey, you’ve probably eaten poison ivy nectar many times. Mmm.
Now many a book and website (including mine) claims that birds eat poison ivy berries. This is a botanically incorrect statement.
Birds eat poison ivy fruits. A fruit is the ripened ovary of a flower. Think of an apple blossom. Just under those pretty petals is a swelling that will get bigger and bigger until it becomes an apple.
Now, in strict botanical terminology, there are different kinds of fruits. There are berries. There are drupes. There are pomes, and so forth.
Berries are fruits in which the entire ovary wall ripens into soft flesh with seeds embedded in the flesh. (This sounds quite x-rated, doesn’t it?) A tomato or a pumpkin is technically, therefore, a berry. I admit a pumpkin is one big son-of-a-gun of a berry, but there it is. Of course, the original fruits of these plants were smaller, centuries ago in the wild state, but humans have bred them for generations, artificially selecting the biggest and nicest looking, if not the best tasting, to be the varieties we grow in our gardens.
Then there are fruits called drupes. (I just like the sound of that word. Say it out loud.) Drupes, in botanical terms, are fruits that are indehiscent, a spelling bee word if ever I saw one. This means that the fruits don’t split open when ripe, like, say, a milkweed pod would do. Drupes have an outer fleshy part, often quite a tasty one, surrounding a hard-shelled pit, with the actual seed protected inside the stony walls of the pit. A cherry, a peach, or a plum, for example.
So poison ivy fruits are drupes—perhaps tasty, although I’ve never tried them and don’t plan to. A fruit that doesn’t split open when ripe. The seed locked inside a hard, heavy shell.
How, then, do poison ivy seeds disperse? Disperse they must, since poison ivy is a pretty common plant. How do poison ivy seeds spread themselves so widely around the landscape?
Poison ivy seeds don’t float on silky parachutes like milkweed or dandelion seeds. They don’t blow on the wind like ragweed seeds. But they do travel through the air for long distances.
Birds definitely find poison ivy drupes quite tasty—at least, many species of birds eat them with enthusiasm. And then the poison ivy seeds, safely encased in a coating of feathers, fly away. They fly quite a long distance, perhaps many miles. The poison-ivy-eating bird then perches on a dead tree or power pole, and carefully plants poison ivy seeds, thoughtfully encased in a nutritious white blob of fertilizer.
Poison ivy germinates and happily winds its way up the dead tree or power pole, which is why so many telephone poles are wreathed in PI, to the disgust of repairmen.
Anyway, enjoy a touch of spring (not literally) with these lovely poison ivy photos by Frank Knight.