What are the furry vines on the trees around town?
We’re glad you asked; otherwise you might have discovered the hard way that they are, in fact, poison-ivy vines. While most of us learned as kids to look out for the mitten-shaped leaves, or memorized the old saying “Leaves of three, let it be,” this troublesome plant can also be found affixed to trees in the shape of hairy, but seemingly innocuous, vines.
Mature vines take on a hairy appearance because they are covered in aerial roots. Every part of the plant, including these roots, contains urushiol, the chemical that causes reactions—a good thing to keep in mind if you are considering removing any vines from your trees. According to environmental affairs director Pat Sesto, unlike many other weeds, which die when the weather turns colder, the urushiol in poison ivy remains active in the winter. “People tend to try to pull the vines off of trees before the poison ivy leaves come in,” Sesto says. “not realizing that they still contain urushiol at that time.”
Of the three main beefy vines found around Wilton, Sesto says that only poison ivy is native to the area and able to coexist with the trees by wrapping around their trunks. Two other types, bittersweet and grapevine, tend to use the tree as scaffolding, climbing to outer branches and adding weight which can have troublesome consequences during a snowstorm.
So while you should still avoid mitten-shaped leaves grouped in threes, Sesto offers up another saying to steer clear of poison ivy. “Don’t be a dope. Don’t touch the hairy rope!’”