Like many of you, no doubt, I was raised in a reg’lar old ranch style house in what a friend of mine likes to call ‘Sheet Rock Hell’, but I like to recall with nostalgia.

Growing up in the sort of neighborhood filled for a generation or so with houses like that, there are occasionally, but not often, poison ivy plants growing at the backs of flower beds or under hedges.  You learn “leaves of three, let it be” and all that.

Then you go on cub scout camping trips and find yourself hiking ankle deep in stuff that you’re suddenly and alarmedly told is poison ivy. (In my part of the U.S., there are rumors that poison oak and poison sumac exist, and we’re warned about them by books and magazines designed to, democratically, go all over the country.  We might make fun of yankees, but we pity them for these other poison plants they have to deal with.  Also, we pity them for having to live with the New York accents we have to hear on TV.  Eek.  Wouldn’t want to have to hear that nasal snarl every day of normal life.  Better to hear the cottonmouthed slur of our own accents, yeah?) ((But I, as usual, digress))

Out in the woods, you have to look over the plants underfoot more carefully.  A lone poison ivy plant next to a holly bush at the edge of a neatly trimmed lawn?  Easy to spot.  A poison ivy plant standing amongst a riot of other ground cover, or, God help you, trailing up the side of a tree and pretending to be a grapevine ripe for young Tarzans?  Trickier to spot and avoid.

Which brings me to my point.  Not that you’d snatch any of these plants off the ground and eat them, but here are all the three-leaves-in-a-cluster plant types that I found simply by walking four blocks north of my home.  Granted, that took me past a home where the front lawn has been allowed to become a ‘wildflower’ yard (meaning the owner of the property is himself old, can’t pay to have the expensive ceramic roof tiles replaced, or to pay someone to resurrect a yard from which I once found a raccoon had tumbled out into the sidewalk, dead from something I don’t care to guess.) and also takes me along the back edge of the local zoo, where a strip of dirt has until recently been between two chainlink fences and has therefore run wild for as long as anyone cares to remember.  The drifts of Fall leaves are, once or twice a year, blown out of there, but otherwise, it’s home to chipmunks, birds, squirrels, the occasional surprising and surprised duck, and sometimes chickens that have released themselves on their own recognizance from the ‘Once Upon A Farm’ coop which is the part of the zoo at its back edge.

Again, I have digressed.  You probably expected that by now.

Here’s the leaves:

Not all of them are poison ivy.  In fact, there are three sets of leave here that I might handle without gloves.  On the other hand, why take chances?  Can you reliably tell what’s what?  I’m not sure I can, and it worries me.

So here’s the bigger question.  What the heck did poison ivy evolve its properties to protect itself FROM?