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In Praise of Poison Ivy


No one seems to like Toxicodendron radicans but poison ivy is an important plant in our urban and suburban natural areas. Poison ivy (Anacardiaceae, the cashew family) is a common woody vine, native to the United States and Canada from Nova Scotia to Florida, west to Michigan and Texas. It is also found in Central America as far south as Guatemala. It is all but ubiquitous in natural areas in the Mid-Atlantic United States. It has been recorded in over 70 wooded parks and other natural areas in New York City.

Poison ivy does have certain drawbacks for many people who are allergic to its oily sap. The toxins in poison ivy sap are called urushiols, chemicals containing a benzene ring with two hydroxyl groups (catechol) and an alkyl group of various sorts (CnHn+1).

These chemicals can cause itching and blistering of skin but they are made by the […]

Plants, Soil, and Fungi


One of the most active parts in a forest takes place in the soil where insects and other small invertebrate animals start to decompose fallen leaves, branches and animal remains. Fungi and bacteria complete the decay processes that return nitrogen, phosphorus and trace minerals to the soil to be taken up by roots and once again incorporated into living plants. These nutrient cycles support all the plants and animals of the forests and other natural areas.


Fungi play another vital role in the forest as symbiotic (sym -together, bios – living) partners of roots. Certain types of fungi are incorporated into the structure of roots and help them take up nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate. In return, the host plant supplies the fungus with carbohydrates (sugars and starches).


When speaking of fungi, there are a couple of critical things to note. First, plants and fungi form […]