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Poison ivy is more dangerous than ever, because 2020

Published Aug 25th, 2020 3:20PM EDT
poison ivy
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  • Poison ivy is growing faster and is more potent than ever thanks to heightened CO2 concentrations in the air.
  • The plants are growing, on average, nearly 150% faster than in decades prior, according to researchers.
  • Skin contact with poison ivy leads to painful rashes and even blisters.

Didn’t think 2020 could get any worse? Think again! While you’re doing your best to maintain social distancing, you might be tempted to turn to nature, taking a nice walk on a trail, or even do some gardening. As it turns out, those things are now a bit riskier than before, and not because of the ongoing pandemic.

Poison ivy, the plant known to cause seriously painful rashes when oils on the plant’s leaves come in contact with skin, is growing faster than ever, according to Dr. Jacqueline Mohan, a professor at the University of Georgia. In an interview with WVLT, Mohan explains that increases in yearly CO2 levels are contributing to the rapid spread of poison ivy, and putting people in danger as a result.

The plant isn’t mutating or doing anything out of the ordinary itself, but it is growing faster and potentially becoming more potent due to increases in CO2 levels. Plants love CO2, and poison ivy is no different. The more CO2 that is present in the air around us, the more can be used to fuel the growth of the plant. The more efficient and healthy the plant is, the more harmful it may be to anyone who comes across it.

“It’s a real double whammy. More abundant, bigger, and nastier,” Dr. Mohan told the station. ”It actually makes the leaves more poisonous, more allergenic to people.”

That’s not great news for anyone who favors the outdoors. Unfortunately, increasing CO2 levels have been linked to climate change, which means that if poison ivy is getting more dangerous, it’s actually our fault.

In studying the increased rate of growth of plants over multiple years, Dr. Mohan found that tall trees are experiencing a growth increase of around 25% on average. That’s a pretty impressive bump, but it’s nothing like what poison ivy is experiencing. Based on her data, poison ivy is growing roughly 150% faster than in decades prior. That’s an incredible increase in a relatively short period of time.

Poison ivy is characterized by its stalks with three leaves, and it’s well-known to hikers, hunters, and others who spend a good amount of time outdoors. If you happen to come across any, it’s a good idea to avoid it, as even a light brush against the skin can cause some severe reactions. Skin exposure to poison ivy often results in a painful rash, swelling, and even blisters. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help ensure we don’t deal with super-powered poison ivy in the years to come is to curb our impact on the climate.