Poison ivy flower

Even Poison Ivy Has Flowers

Every morning I take my daughters out for a walk in their "twinmobile". There's a short path through the woods that takes us to another development where we do most of our strolling. They love to bump along the dirt path over the twisted roots of trees. Along the path grow nettles, jewelweed, red raspberries, and other assorted weeds. To me, as a botanist, a weed is just another plant, complete with flowers and fruits (or seeds or pods or whatever). But to others these same plants might be considered weeds.

Weeds are simply plants that are growing in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you want a perfect uniformly green lawn (which by the way is probably composed of several different types of grass) you will not be happy when the bright yellow flowers of the dandelion plant start to bloom.

Think about all of the weeds that are really quite lovely. Clover, mullein, butter and eggs, soapwort, chickweed, Queen Anne's lace, Indian paintbrush-all of them have beautiful flowers, but are thought of as weeds. Even poison ivy has a striking flower, although it is rarely ever seen.

I remember a trip I took in graduate school to the sunken holly forest on Fire Island. As we walked along the boardwalk we suddenly emerged into an open area filled with sunlight. At one point one we saw a curious flower on a woody vine that had wrapped itself around the railing. One of my classmates leaned over to take closer look at this peculiar whitish-green flower that none of us had ever seen. As she wondered out loud what it was, some of us realized in horror that it was the flower of the poison ivy plant.

Fortunately she had no allergic reaction to the poison ivy and I don't recall whether it even had a fragrance. Poison ivy like most plants needs a certain amount of sunlight in order to produce flowers and most never get enough to flower. Or, they twine up to the top of a tree where when the plant does flower we don't see it. In fact, I've never seen the poison ivy flower again. With any luck I never will.

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