Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
Touch that vine and you'll be sick!

No magic beans needed here at The Crooked Little House. If you're looking for a vine to climb up to the giant's castle, you've come to the right place. Imagine taking a wire brush and scrubbing your arms and legs till you remove a layer of skin. Now put on the itchiest wool sweater you can find. That has been my state of existence for the past week, hence the small number of sketches to share, all from a vine I was assured was nothing to fear - Virginia Creepy, I mean Creeper.

My first Autumn back in the 90s at The Crooked Little House was sheer delight, lasting much longer than our brief fall season back in Massachusetts where I came from. My new abode offered me a slide show of unfamiliar plants and animals. Draping my neighbor's trees like Christmas garlands were the most beautiful vines that morphed from green to butterscotch to candy apple red in color, sprouting clusters of large, grape jelly-colored berries on bright, red stems. I asked my neighbor about the vines, and she told me the name of them and said not to worry, they aren't poisonous. And she is right, they don't contain any poison whatsoever. But like Merlin, their power is in the crystals. I just didn't know that yet. So when the vines began to overtake my favorite cherry tree, blanketing the trunk and limbs, I decided enough already and began to yank them down. They came off the branches easily and one tug would release them from the ground, in a harmless sort of way. I mean something vile wouldn't allow itself to be torn up that easily would it?

Poison ivy, oak and sumac all have plant oils that contain a substance called urushiol, and this is what causes the rash and the itching. Virginia Creeper doesn't have that. But what it does contain in its sap are oxalate crystals. And for some individuals like me, the reaction can be much worse than a mere dose of poison ivy. So after a few days of madness, off I went to see Dr. Joe who had had his own encounter with Virginia Creeper. After a round of prednisone, I am still itching though admittedly not as badly as in the beginning. I guess I'll just have to let it run its course since I'm not willing to take any more steroids. With my jungle scratched arms and bloated face, I appear to be an early Halloween decoration.

So now I know what to avoid in my yard. I'll have to work at keeping the vines down to a minimum. When it gets cooler and I can tolerate bundling up, I'll pull out the poison ivy by the rain barrel. I'll cut back the hideous catbriar that that has been trying to get into the windows through the screens. And I'll wage war on the rest of the Virginia Creeper.

Thankfully not all vines are a threat to my well being. I love the honeysuckle that perfumes the air each spring, wafting through the kitchen window in the wee hours of the morning. And I am quite fond of the trumpet vine that covers the pergola, popping out masses of red blossoms luring in hummingbirds, bees and assorted bugs, plus providing shade for a lazy summer afternoon. But keep in mind what the Founder of Cynicism, Diogenes, said. "The vine bears three kinds of grapes: the first of pleasure, the second of intoxication, the third of disgust." Interpret any way you like.

FYI : I have found a great solution for working around these troublesome plants. Take a pair of tube socks and cut off the feet. Pull them up over your arms, from wrists to elbows, then put on gloves. This will assure you total coverage. Now I just need to devise a foolproof way to defrock without touching anything.


  1. Liz..nice story..sure hope you heal up fast! Is that beautiful Camelia bush still at the top of the hill in the front? It should be enormous by now!! I remember when Momma and Louie planted it!!

  2. Hi Debbie,
    The Camelia is still guarding the corner and has produced a beautiful offspring right next to it. If you look to a previous post, you'll see a sketch of one of the pods. Thanks for staying in touch.

  3. Oh, Elizabeth how awful! I hope you continue to feel better! Thank you for sharing the info about Virginia Creeper- I had never heard of it, though I don't think it's out here in Colorado- nothing grows that rampant out here in the dry altitude...