In thinking about our community’s efforts to Save Salt Island from deforestation and development, I wanted to share evidence that the vines and shrubs on the island are an important source of food for a host of small mammals and birds.
One of the most reviled of plants, Poison Ivy, is an excellent food plant for wildlife and will not cause the itchy uncomfortable rash if you do not touch the leaves, stems, fruits, and roots. Poison Ivy can either look like a shrub or a vine. Regardless of the shape, the leaves are easily identifiable in that they are always arranged in three; two leaves opposite one another, and between them the third leaf is borne on a stem growing at a right angle from the two shorter leaves.
Out on Eastern Point there are large patches of Poison Ivy that grow smack on the edge of very well traveled pathways. They have grown that way for decades, yet no one bothers the Poison Ivy and the Poison Ivy bothers no one. The spring blooming greenish yellow clusters of flowers are beloved by bees and myriad pollinators, while the vitamin rich white waxy berries are relished by resident and migrating songbirds alike.
In autumn, the plant’s glossy green leaves turn a brilliant red, which acts as a “red flag” to hungry songbirds. The long list of birds that dine on Poison Ivy fruits include Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Song Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Bobwhites, and many, many more.
Poison Ivy Tips – If you come in contact, rinse the area with cold water, not soap, as soon after contact as possible. Ocean water works well when near to the beach. If you have Jewelweed growing handily nearby, smear the juice of the stem on the exposed skin. Never burn Poison Ivy. With burning, urushiol (the poisonous oil in Poison Ivy) becomes volatilized in the smoke and you can get it in your lungs, which is very dangerous and can even lead to death.