P81209This would be a good topic for one of my rants on Wednesday, except that it is too silly for that.

Many years ago, before I started writing my gardening column for our local newspapers, my colleague Brent and I used to exchange funny newspaper gardening articles. Some were obviously not written for local climates. Some were just very inaccurate. Back then, it was done by mail, so the articles were added to anything that we happened to be sending to each other at the time. If I sent him some seeds, I would add an article or a few from the San Jose Mercury News. If he sent my cuttings, he would add an article or a few from the Los Angeles Times. They eventually became the inspiration for my gardening column, when Brent and others told me that rather than making fun of the inaccuracies of the articles, I should provide accurate articles.

One of the silliest that Brent sent to me was an otherwise well written article about star jasmine. Most of the information about it was accurate, until it got to describing the colors of the exclusively white bloom. The article explained that star jasmine bloomed in vivid shades or blue, purple, red, orange and yellow; just about every color except for white!

Well, I topped that with an article about protecting Japanese maples from theft, which sounded crazy even before reading the article. There were three recommendations. The first was to surround the subject Japanese maple with razor wire. Ah, the ambiance! The second recommendation was to dig a hole about as big as a trash can and fill it with concrete with a curved piece of rebar to make an enclosed loop on top, and then chain the subject Japanese maple to it. How about we just do without a Japanese maple in the front yard in a neighborhood where we expect it to get stolen. The third recommendation was to plant poison oak around the subject Japanese maple. Yes, good old fashioned poison oak, Rhus diversiloba, which is also known by the more descriptive Latin name of Toxicodendron diversilobum, and commonly available at . . . . some nursery . . . . somewhere. . . . You know, one of those . . . . garden centers . . . . or something.

Silly? Yes! What is sillier is that poison oak really IS available from certain nurseries that sell native specie! What is even SILLIER than that incredible degree of SILLINESS is that one of the so-called landscape companies that I worked for in about 2006 actually procured some for habitat restoration outside of, but adjacent to a newly landscaped area on the banks of where the Guadalupe River flows through San Jose. Poison oak and other native vegetation needed to be eradicated for the installation of the new poison oak and associated irrigation system, because nothing is more natural than supplemental irrigation! Then, the ‘gardeners’ had to conduct regularly scheduled weed abatement so that poison oak growing from seed tossed by the pre-existing poison oak did not grow up and compete with the new poison oak in the new ‘natural’ ‘landscape’. We certainly would not want poison oak taking over the poison oak.

Okay, this is not Wednesday, so I will finish this rant.

Poison oak happens to provide some of the best orange and red autumn foliar color in our region where almost all of such color is simple yellow. Where it is out of the way and not bothering anyone, it is sometimes left to climb high into trees, where it colors almost as well as flowering pear. Yes, it is pretty, but I will not be planting any of it.P81209+

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23 thoughts on “Rhus diversiloba / Toxicodendron diversilobum

  1. Poison oak grows around these parts but it’s not nearly as prevalent as poison ivy. I can’t imagine anyone planting it for landscaping ever! While I have observed deer eating poison ivy, I have not seen them nibbling poison oak. That habitat restoration you spoke of is probably a more common story around the country than we could imagine.

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    1. Habitat restoration is such a joke! There is so much that could be done with the resources that it consumes. Some minor repair work to a bridge here necessitated habitat restoration, even though the repair was imperceptible from the outside, and did nothing to violate the adjacent flora. An area adjacent to the bridge was cleared so that a few native sycamores, bays and live oaks could be planted and caged for protection from deer. A crew comes by to water them and to remove any vegetation that gets to close, including any sycamores, bays and oaks that might appear. The new trees are right against the bridge, precisely where they will need to get cut down or at least mutilated by clearance pruning as they mature. If nothing was done, sycamores, bays and oaks would grow their naturally. It is much more important to remove invasive exotic specie, including a huge Acacia dealbata that is right up against the bridge. There is plenty of English ivy to remove. People think of habitat restoration as merely adding more trees and flora, but do not consider the importance of removing undesirable flora and vegetation management.

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  2. At least when poison ivy and poison oak were suggested as ‘plants of the month’ for our native plant society meeting, they were smart enough not agree that at least in that month, the give-aways ought not match the presentation.

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  3. I love the concept of the old poison oak competing for space with the new! Years ago, the head of the Santa Barbara Health Dept. didn’t recognize that she was weeding out poison oak from her yard one afternoon — ouch!

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      1. I try to get rid of it when I can. Even if it is at a safe distance, it tosses seed. One of my colleagues was fond of a particularly huge specimen that had grown up with a redwood tree. It gripped firmly to the redwood trunk. I wanted to cut it at the base because it was tossing seed into the nursery stock, where we had to pull poison oak seedlings out before sending the stock out. For all I know, seedlings continued to appear in the stock at the retail end, or in the gardens of those who purchased the stock. I eventually cut it down. He was quite angry.

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    1. Children who go camping here are systematically instructed on the identification of poison oak on arrival. They are specifically told to now use it for roasting marshmallows. I have never heard of it happening, but if they get instructed about it, it must have happened.

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  4. You may be one the people that just don’t react to poison oak. I don’t and neither does one of my brothers. He used to brag and roll around in it to show off as a teenager in the SF Bay Area! My mother used to get it off my father’s fishing clothing, and her doctor started having her take something she kept in the refrigerator (I was little so didn’t know what it was), like little bottles of pink serum? It’s nice not to be bothered by it, but I still give it a wide berth!
    Never burn it. My late husband’s father cleared brush with it near Clear Lake and burnt it, and my husband nearly died from the smoke, his lungs got infected or inflamed, or what have you.
    It’s so pretty though. And tricky in the spring, growing with the oak trees!

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    1. I do happen to be allergic to it, and I often get into trouble with it when not expecting it. I had to cut up a bay tree that had fallen into an irrigation pond, and experienced a serious allergic reaction from the water in the pond. Poison oak was growing in the dry pond before it filled with rainwater.

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