There's a poison ivy problem — in the Bronx


I am writing to draw attention and awareness to the incredible prevalence of poison ivy in the Bronx. Never have I seen so much urban poison ivy as I see in the Bronx!

My 2-year-old has spent two summers here on Post Road, and has gotten poison ivy each summer despite never coming into direct contact with the live vine. I suspect she’s walked through dry leaf duff containing poison ivy at the playground. 

From what I’ve seen, and the conversations I’ve had with Bronx locals, not many folks are well-educated about this plant. In fact, most folks don’t even know what it looks like.

Poison ivy is a native plant, and as such cannot — and should not — be eradicated from the woods. However, the birds freely eat the berries and drop the seeds all over. This seed dispersal creates the conditions by which I see poison ivy in all our parks and playgrounds, and climbing many fences, right next to the sidewalk where my toddler walks with me, and where dogs walk with their owners. 

I’ve even seen poison ivy growing on elevated subway station platforms.

Some facts about poison ivy:

• All parts of the plant are toxic to human: the leaves, the berries, the stems and the roots, causing small itchy blisters to form on affected skin. If it is a more serious case, the small blisters will join into larger ones. The blisters are our body’s reaction against the toxic oil.

• Not everyone is allergic to poison ivy, but most people are.

• Even when the plant is dead and dried up, its toxic oils remain active. So when the leaves dry up in the fall, and get crushed up and crumbled with the other leaves, the oils are still a potential threat.

• Burning poison ivy is a terrible threat because the inhaled smoke causes the blisters to form in your lungs, if you inhale the smoke.

• If your dog rubs against the plant, the oil will coat the dog hair, and transfer to you when you pet or touch it.

• When cut back, the vine will simply re-grow.

• The only safe disposal is to place the entire plant — including the roots — in a plastic bag, and throw it out with the trash.

It’s wonderful that park rangers teach people about poison ivy on their guided hikes through Van Cortlandt Park. However, I believe the threat is significant enough in the park to warrant the posting of poison ivy warning signs along the major paths, especially the cross-country paths, which are rife with the plant.

Also, since many folks barbecue in Van Cortlandt Park in the summer months, it would be good for a parks department poison ivy education table or poster to be set up on summer weekends, so that more of the general populace can learn to recognize this important, but dangerous, native plant.

If you find poison ivy growing at street (toddler/dog) level, you can take action: 311 collects poison ivy complaints on its website. Plug “poison ivy” into its search bar to find the page.

This is good for complaining about poison ivy on public and private properties. Both private owners and city properties are obliged to remove threatening poison ivy. There is not yet capacity to report threatening poison ivy through the 311 phone app, but I am hopeful.

Heidi Slatkin