There is still time to contribute to the science of science communication! See the bottom of this post to do so AND also win prizes. Survey closes Nov 20, 2015.
This may, perhaps, be more than you needed to know. But I am allergic to poison ivy. No big deal, you might think. You’re a botanist. Surely you know what it looks like! Just avoid it.
Ah, yes, I can mostly avoid it. Though, hey, poison ivy/oak/sumac ID is actually harder than you might think. Poison ivy and its relatives, in the genus Toxicodendron or “poison tree”, are really phenotypically diverse – that is, they can look really different, and still be in the same species (this is ability is known as phenotypic plasticity, and enjoy *that* can of worms if you decide to look into it). One species is Toxicodendron diversilobum because it’s leaves (lobum) are so, um, diverse. Another is Toxicodendron radicans because it appearance can vary so… radically. Yeah, sometimes botanist just give things the obvious names.
But wait! The suffering doesn’t end there. The irritant oil that is the source of the suffering (primarily urushiol, one of a several oils found in the these plants called toxicodendrols) is also found in many other members of the plant family that poison ivy belongs to, Anacardiaceae, though at lower levels. This family includes MANGOES. And also CASHEWS. These things are both delicious and not exactly rare in our global food culture. In fact exposure to poison ivy can prepare you to react to mangoes and cashews much more strongly than those with no exposure to poison ivy. And so mango and cashew allergies are *far* more common in North America, where poison ivy occurs, than even in places such as South America or the Indian subcontinent, where mangoes and cashews are grown and widely consumed.
Other inhabitants of North America don’t share my suffering. Whitetail deer have been observed to eat the berries and young leaves, where the urushiol is most concentrated, with no ill effects. But beware! Don’t pick the colorful red leaves in the fall, however charming they look in your holiday wreaths. I really can not discourage this enough.
Help us do science! I’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to create a survey of AlienPlantation readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve AlienPlantation and contributing to SCIENCE on blog readership. You will also get FREE science art from Paige’s Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a t-shirt and a $50.00 Amazon.com gift card! It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here: http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders.