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At Home With Marni Jameson: When pruning beware of poisonous plants

Summer is prime time for poisonous plants
By Marni Jameson Published: July 20, 2013

I'd had it with the tree monster taking over my driveway. It loomed larger every day and threatened to eat me and my car every time we pulled in. As my personal rainforest grew thicker and more menacing, so did my resolve to hack it back — someday.

Someday when I wasn't dressed for work, or late for spin class or a social plan, when I wasn't too tired and it wasn't too dark, I would cut the tree monster back.

That day came last week. But the tree got the last word.

After a night of heavy rain, I bolt out of bed at 6:45 a.m. because I hear the trash truck. Aach! Recycle day! I'd forgotten to put out the bins, again. I slide on flip flops and dash out in my pajamas. (There goes the neighborhood.)

As I haul the recycle bins from garage to curb, I must plough through the tree monster, now rain-soaked and bowing lower than usual. I get drenched.

That's it. Because who knows where the yard clippers are, I grab my rose clippers (Yes, I know I have told you to use these only for flowers) and engage in hand-to-hand combat with the tree monster.

Still in my pajamas — PJ pants and a tank top — I hack creating a large pile of plant remains. As I whack back, I notice I'm cutting through branches and vines intertwined. Some vines have clusters of three leaves.

Then — remember, this is all before I've had my coffee — I recall some rhyme about leaves of three let them be. What if it's? Could it be? Poison ivy?

Too late now. I stuff the last of the plant debris into the second large trash bag. Back inside, I search my phone for what to do if exposed to poison ivy or oak. As a precaution, I follow the instructions to the T: Immediately douse exposed area with rubbing alcohol, rinse with water, shower with soap.

Reactions, I read, usually show up 12 to 48 hours later.

Pretty sure I've overreacted, I forget all about it. Until … 30 hours later, bumps appear on my right inner arm and inside left elbow. The rash looks like measles, and soon blossoms into itchy blisters.

“I have leprosy,” I tell Katie McCoy Dubrow, a publicist for Garden Media Group, who said the same thing happened to her last summer.

“You were lucky you acted fast,” she said. “I got it from head to toe.” This was a small comfort. She works in the garden industry and knows better.

“I thought I was immune,” said Dubrow. “Did I think some of the plants might be poison ivy? Yes. Did I worry about it? No.” She had to see her doctor, who prescribed steroids.

I now had no room to complain about my two little rash patches, which wouldn't cover a post card.

But to spare you, and me, in the future, I called R.J. Laverne, education manager for The Davey Tree Expert Co. in Kemp, Ohio, for some poison plant pointers.

“Summer is prime time for poisonous plants,” Laverne said.Here's how gardeners can spot and handle them, and what to do if exposed:

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