P is for Patient Zero: Peppervine, Native Potato, Poison Ivy AND Pokémon.

Let the battle begin.

My next door neighbor has the world’s largest poison ivy plant. It is probably the great granddaddy of all the poison ivy in the city.

I might be exaggerating a little.

poison ivy sneaking under the fence
Poison ivy

But it does try to sneak under the fence and I am so allergic that my skin can sense its malevolence from 10 meters away.

Yesterday, my Spidey senses warned me it was getting near and sure enough I caught a glimpse of the first settlers sneaking under the fence.

‘You shall not pass!” I said in my best imitation of Sir Ian McKellen. I even brandished a handy rake at it.  My neighbor said it was a forceful performance full of bluster and menace. The university even reported a minor earthquake but that poison ivy didn’t even flinch.

What to do? Herbicides are not welcome around here. You can’t trim poison ivy; it just grows back thicker. I don’t have access to the parent plant’s root system so I can’t dig it up. The only option is to do something crazy.

I decided to play Pokémon. The fence line is now a battleground. May the best plant win. I am introducing a couple of vigorous native species into the same area to see if they can out-compete it. Yes, you heard right: 2 against 1. Fair play is for suckers.


Round One (ding ding) Apios americana, I choose YOU

One plant that likes the same conditions as poison ivy is Apios americana, an edible perennial potato that is native to North America.

Apios americana is also a nitrogen fixing plant and that is a welcome trait. I like a garden that can take care of itself.

Native potato can grow up supports or act as a ground cover. I think the flowers are beautiful; they smell like violets. I can’t wait to see how they will do. My perfect husband got them for me this spring. (heart heart heart)

A picture of one small string of tubers can be seen below. See the cute growth buds?

apios tubers2

Peppervine! I Choose You, Too

“But it is still round one,” you might whisper. Pshaw. The peppervine is just backup.

Peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea)is another vigorous native plant that theoretically enjoys the kinds of conditions found in my backyard: heavy clay soil, lots of shade and the constant threat of drought. Peppervine gets bonus points for providing food for wildlife: nectar for pollinators and berries for birds and mammals.


Ironically, peppervine is often mistaken for poison ivy because of the leaf shape and placement. But, peppervine leaves are much smaller, less glossy and a lighter green color. Over time poison ivy always grows an unmistakable red fur from its stems. Those aerial roots allow it to cling to any surface. You won’t find those red roots on peppervine.

I collected some seeds from a plant growing along a roadside this March. I read that the seeds need to be stratified for about 6 weeks. So, I filled a container with some moist compost and added the seeds. They’ve been living in the fridge since then much to the amazement of my son. He, like the cat, always seems to be foraging for food. Every so often I catch him looking at the ‘dirt in the fridge.’ I’m sure he wonders if I have completely lost my mind. Um … yes.

In May, I will let those seeds see the light of day where I hope they will agree to germinate and grow. Wish me luck, I hear they sometimes can take a long time to sprout.

Below is a picture of the enemy and reigning champion of the fence line. You might see it as a tree with a warped soul. The warp-age is courtesy the Asplundah peeps who lop off limbs every few years to keep it from eating the power lines. But, see how it LOOMS right out at me? Well, the tree isn’t really the problem. The problem is what it is wearing: a scarf of Toxicodendron radicans that extends to the power lines and beyond. 

tree looming


18 thoughts on “P is for Patient Zero: Peppervine, Native Potato, Poison Ivy AND Pokémon.

  1. Vinegar is only going to scorch off the leaves on your side of the fence. An acid is only going to burst the cells of the leaves it contacts. It has no systemic effects. The oil is present in all parts of toxicodendron. There’s a reason why cashews have to be roasted first before being edible.
    Go into the heart of darkness and find where it is emerging from the ground. You will have 30 minutes of exposure time. I am highly allergic to poison ivy. Even if all I have is gasoline with which to wash off the oil it is better than leaving it on my skin. Mechanic’s waterless soap works well in the field. Take a folding pruning saw, some brush and stump killer (triclopyr of whatever brand name you choose) and a small paint or make-up brush. After you cut the vine near the ground pull the top back enough that you can access the cambium layer of the stump. Paint it with the straight, undiluted triclopyr. There is no need to soak the entire stump. A dab around the perimeter where it is actively growing is sufficient to kill large trees and this pernicious and devilish vine as well.


    1. I simply don’t want to apply any kind of herbicide anywhere near my property. I do not believe anything offered on the market is safe. I see them as more of a threat than the poison ivy.

      The thing that I heard about the vinegar was that you apply it to the stump once the vine has been cut early in the season. I can’t say I have tried it only that I heard good things about it — that it is at least as effective as the usual herbicides people use.

      I don’t have access to the vine’s main root system. Neither does my neighbour paradoxically and that is how it has grown to be so huge. Otherwise I would just do what I do with any weed: apply some effort, dig it up and in this case safely dispose it in the trash. Unfortunately, it is growing in a tricky spot that would require the removal of a very old chain link fence as well as the removal of a heritage tree just to get to where the vine exits the soil. Hardy seems worth the time or money even if I could talk my neighbour into doing this.

      So far my plan appears to be working. The native potato is astonishingly vigorous and is now two feet tall in just over a month.
      *fingers crossed


      1. Interestingly, it seems that we higher primates are the only ones bothered by the stuff. Our neighbors had a horse and he used to eat all the poison ivy off the stone walls for us. Probably not a practical solution. Maybe a goat.


        1. I have heard that goats love the stuff! And it is so true that everyone else loves the stuff. The birds here do a great job of propagating it. haha


  2. I am intrigued by this poison ivy story and all the comments. I have read about it before but it is interesting to see a picture of it and hear how everyone is so scared of it. Is it something like nettles or is it far, far worse?


    1. The smoke really can kill you. It is toxic. I didn’t even know I was allergic to the stuff and so one winter I was blissfully clearing it out. Well, I had lesions all over both arms just from touching the dormant roots. The plant actually increases in toxicity in hot conditions so I don’t want to think about what would have happened if it had been summer. My left arm became infected and swelled to 3 times its normal size. It went septic and I wound up in urgent care. Plus, an allergy can develop just through exposure so nobody is really safe. It is a plant that needs to be treated with extreme caution.


        1. The weird part is that a person really can go for years with absolute immunity. I am sure someone out there must be studying this really interesting plant.


  3. Fought this same battle at different houses. Once it get started, getting rid of it is tough. I don’t care if it’s pretty fall color! Will be curious if the battle of the plants has any luck…that one tends to grow happily on/among any plant. It’s the one time I will grab herbicide…even then it’s battle. It is a cockroach plant – great comparison (Do not burn the leaves – even that smoke is dangerous)


    1. I have heard that a strong acetic acid solution can work, too. Maybe one day I’ll put on some ninja clothing and sneak over with a saw and a cloth dipped in vinegar. Until then, I’ll just try to laugh.


  4. Poison Ivy is a bad player all right. The Hub and I are both extremely sensitive (I started to itch just looking at your photos). It is the one instance in which we will at least consider the use of an herbicide. That said, we always try digging it out (using plastic bread bags over our gloved hands to be pulled down over the strand to dispose of it without getting the offensive oil on tools or person) and we always keep some Technu (a proprietary combatant lotion) around in case we are exposed.


    1. I saw someone called it the cockroach of plants, hahahhahaha
      I have heard good things about Technu from other people. I should probably stock up.


  5. OMG, good luck. I have the very same problem behind my property and have tried everything including my landscaper friend going over to their property and poisoning it (which I don’t allow on my property). No luck with any tactic. It keeps coming back through my fence.


    1. I won’t ever be able to eradicate it. I am starting from that assumption. I am super vigilant and do pull it out if it crosses the line so it never gets much of a chance to settle in. Mostly, I am curious to see what will happen if I add in an extra factor to make it a little harder for it to grow over here.


  6. Ugh! Poison ivy! Can’t stand the stuff. I’m intrigued by your approach (having battled the menace myself). I just hope it doesn’t befriend it’s challengers and end up all happily intertwined. Would love to hear how it works!


    1. That poison ivy nearly killed me a couple of years ago when a lesion got infected so I am serious about controlling it.
      I will definitely be making progress reports. It may turn out to be a mess but I am willing to risk it.


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