Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Leaves of Three, Let It...Bloom?

Growing up, I was never allergic to poison ivy, so when I started gardening as an adult, I never bothered to learn what it looked like.  After an intense weeding session several years ago, however, all of that changed.  I was apparently no longer immune to poison ivy - and I was bound and determined to never suffer such a bout of itchy miserableness again!  I quickly learned to spot the infamous 'leaves of three'!

This area is known for having copious amounts of poison ivy (as many fellow gardeners told me after moving up here to the Northeast), so I was dismayed but not surprised when many 'leaves of three' popped up this spring in the shady area under my back deck.


Every few weeks I went into the backyard carefully armed and protected with gloves and plastic bags and removed all the offensive seedlings.  My kids were not allowed to play there under the deck, and when we had to stain the wooden deck supports this summer, Mr. Red House and I wore protective boots and dreamed about our future patio that would smother all of this poison ivy.


Then the other day I noticed a very curious thing.  I spotted a poison ivy plant that I had missed in my weeding, and it was... blooming?


All those plants under my deck weren't poison ivy at all!  Those impostors were actually Bidens frondosa - I had been most carefully pulling up a harmless native wildflower.

Bidens frondosa
An annual native to North America, Bidens frondosa is also known under such descriptive names as Devil's Beggarticks, Common Beggar-ticks, Devil's Pitchfork, Sticktights, Bur Marigold, and Pitchfork Weed.  I somehow get the impression people are not very fond of it...


This Bidens has been introduced into other parts of the world, such as Europe, Asia, and New Zealand, and has proved to be a noxious weed there, as it grows so readily.  The seeds of this Beggar-tick are much like all the other similarly nicknamed plants - they cling onto animal fur or clothing or anything that brushes up against them and can be a pain to get off.  (That, and the fact that the seeds are shaped vaguely like a pitchfork, is probably what earned it the nicknames 'Devil's Beggarticks' and 'Devil's Pitchfork'.)  As you can see, this is one of the non-showy Bidens, as it doesn't have outer yellow petals like some other Bidens have.  Thus the flowers are not really noticeable or that pretty (unless you are a pollinator, anyway).


Bidens frondosa prefers moist soil and will grow easily in light shade or in full sun.  It has compound leaves, usually with either 3 or 5 leaflets.  Thus it can sometimes be mistaken by certain gardeners for poison ivy...


So how can you tell the difference between this wildflower and poison ivy?  Well, apparently the leaves of poison ivy alternate along the stem, while the leaves of Bidens frondosa are opposite each other.

Aha! Leaves are directly opposite each other = not poison ivy!
Well, I am thankful that our backyard is not as infested with poison ivy as I thought.  I do wonder about this plant in the front yard though...


It looks rather suspicious...
What do you guys think?

22 comments:

  1. I was thinking it didn't quite look like the Poison Ivy I've seen. I think maybe that last plant might be Poison Oak? I've never been allergic either, after accidentally stepping in it several times. I have heard, though, that people can develop the allergy later in life. Allergies are weird things--I have a few of my own. Whatever folks say about Bidens frondosa, it is fun to find a new plant.

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    1. I think I just exposed myself to so much Poison Ivy that one time that I developed an allergy. Luck me! Well, at least I apparently don't have any in my back yard, thankfully!

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  2. Good that the Bidens frondosa you discovered wasn't poison ivy...we do find poison ivy especially when I let things go too long. The last picture may be poison oak as Beth said...I would take it out.

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    1. Yeah, I took it out very carefully. Better to be safe than sorry!

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  3. Sorry to hear you suffer so from Poison Ivy. It's a bugger to get rid of! I remember getting pitchforks all over me as a child.....the animals too.
    The killer is they are so small and blend so well you can brush by them and not know it....best under the porch!

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    1. Oh, no, that is too bad you have so much of it! I always worry that my kids are going to get it

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  4. Poison ivy in the yard? Yikes! I'm glad at least some of it was innocent :-) Good luck keeping it under control. Thankfully we don't have that problem in our suburban garden.

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    1. Yeah, I never had a problem in my more suburban yard in North Carolina. Here, though, we have some woods, so I'm always very wary!

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  5. I did not know that this plant is poisonous.
    I feel sorry that you are allergic to it.
    Greetings from Polish.
    Lucia

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    1. I've been training my kids to be wary of 'leaves of three', as poison ivy is so prevalent here!

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  6. For me, the young plants of beggartick look like tomato plants. Either way, it's very clever at looking like something you want to leave alone. Fortunately, if you pull it diligently for a season, it's easy to control. I've got plenty of other nectar plants in late summer and fall.

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    1. That's true, some of them do look like that! We have several different types of beggarticks in my yard. Most of them are quite pretty and showy, actually.

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  7. I can't help you. I never saw what "got" me.

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    1. Oh, no, then you don't know where to find the plant to pull it out! That is hard!

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  8. I am wondering what your neighbours thought as they saw you tackling a perfectly innocent native plant in your high-protection gear!

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    1. Ha, my neighbors are probably used to me doing all sorts of weird things by now... taking pictures of what looks like weeds, watering plants in my pajamas, putting up all sorts of strange string/wire contraptions to hold vines... At least I provide entertainment!

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  9. Hmm, I don’t think I have ever encountered poisonous ivy in my garden, but I have read it is found over here in Britain too. Better safe than sorry, pull up things you haven’t planted and are in doubt of, especially when you have children playing in the garden.

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    1. I'm very cautious now whenever I see 'leaves of three', especially with the kids playing in the yard! Better to be overly cautious, right?

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  10. It's always tricky to identify plants when lots are so similar. I grew two ginormous weeds this year thinking they were plants ;-) . Better to be safe than sorry if the plant could be an irritant though.

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    1. Ha, that has happened to me, too! One year I grew a lovely giant ragweed plant thinking it might be flower (and my husband is allergic to ragweed!)

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  11. I thought as I was looking at the first few photos that your poison ivy looks a little different from what is growing here:) But, yes, that last photo definitely looks like ours! I, too, used to be immune to poison ivy, but not anymore. Plastic gloves and long sleeves are definitely the order of the day when trying to get rid of it. The Bidens have a pretty little bloom, but from the description of it, it sounds like you were wise to pull it anyway.

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    1. Yeah, it's not showy enough to keep it close to the house. I have a wild meadow full of bidens and other flowers (and weeds), where it is welcome to run rampant!

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