New York State IPM Program

May 15, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Poison ivy (like the Rolling Stones said …)

Poison ivy (like the Rolling Stones said …)

… and now, more than ever, poison ivy’s gonna make you itch. (The Rolling Stones)

I remember the first time I had poison ivy. The particulars are long lost along memory lane. Even so, it was unforgettable. Most likely I was about five years old and, as a born and bred tomboy, I’d been scrambling around in the woods. From that point forward I knew exactly what poison ivy looked like. Sometimes it’s shrubby or low to the ground. Other times its hairy, ropelike vines, thicker than my wrists, twine their way up trees like ropes on the masts of tall sailing ships of yore—or so I imagine them. And yes, the vines are poisonous too.

“Leaves of three, let it be.” Of course there’s more to ID’ing poison ivy. Read on. (Photo Massachusetts Audubon)

Only once since have I gotten poison ivy—not a bad case, either. I was, after all, dressed for the occasion. I was hunting it down, one tangled root after the next, from the woods behind a friend’s daycare home. Toddlers, as we all can appreciate, are simply too young to learn the perils of poison ivy. I hauled it out of there by the bushelful. Funny that after all these years I’ve no clue what I did with it.

Burn it I did not, that’s for sure. I have the merest sketch of a memory—my mom telling me how she’d breathed the smoke from a burning heap of the stuff. Nasty. Can make you really (really) sick—a serious occupational hazard of forest-firefighters.

But these days poison ivy isn’t just a hassle for woodsy sorts who live well past the edges of nearby villages and towns. It’s getting worse for everyone, though some more than others. Why? Let’s fast-forward to the here and now. To a relative here-and-now; the research I’m citing was published in 2006 in PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Research that, btw, has yet to lose its gloss. News stories as recent as 2015 (The New York Times) cite that study in noting the likely consequences of an inadvertent brush with the stuff—especially if you live in a big city. Sure, urban dwellers always had to cope with this wicked vine too. But now they have lots more to worry about than country folk do.

More CO2 in the air is like putting poison ivy on steroids. (Image Climate Central)

Why? Lewis Ziska, one of the lead scientists on the six-year study in a forest at Duke University, found that with increased atmospheric CO2 we get bigger, stronger, leafier poison ivy. Poison ivy that can be way more potent in large cities. Here’s how it works:

Mega-cities are proxies for the planet. They have as much carbon dioxide in their air as the rest of the planet will have in 50 years or so. And CO2 is plant food. Like so many other plants, especially weeds (more on that some other day), poison ivy responds by piling on the pounds, as it were—and producing more urushiol.

If it’s climbing up your apartment building, what better reason could you have than learning to ID poison ivy? (Photo poison-ivy.org)

Haven’t heard of urushiol? It’s the toxic oil that causes that nasty rash. Ziska confirmed those findings in a follow-up study in growth chambers. His calculations, he told Climate Central, are based on the CO2 levels at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Administration (aka NOAA) Mauna Loa research station in Hawaii. What did the research tell him? CO2 concentrations on the ground, where poison ivy actually grows, are usually about 10 percent higher than they were in 1950—not long before my first encounter with poison ivy. And in urban areas they can be up to 30 percent higher.

Thirty percent. Take a moment to absorb that.

Not only that, but from parks to vacant lots, cities mimic the fragmented forests you see wherever a suburb has muscled its way into the landscape. And poison ivy likes fragmented landscapes. It also likes—well, what doesn’t it like? Poison ivy can grow in swampy forest edges and concrete rubble; along fences; in parks or on school grounds; or up and around homes and apartment buildings. So wherever you are, learn to ID poison ivy. “Leaves of three, let it be” is where you start. But some harmless plants also have clusters of three leaves. After all, the numero-uno IPM mantra for any environmental issue is prevention. And prevention is based on having a solid ID.

Curious? Want to check it out? Not! Just walk on by. (Photo TownVibe Wilton)

But surely you’re safe during winter? If only. Unlike many other weeds, which die back when the weather turns cold, the urushiol in poison ivy will get you regardless of the weather. Beware of leafless vines. This is not the time to try and yank them off your trees. If the toxin gets on your gloves or coveralls, it can get on you.

I could say so much more about no end of things related to poison ivy or rising CO2 (or both) … including (for instance) sleek vs. long-haired dogs and cats or the food choices of goats, muskrats and deer. But I have to stop somewhere. And that somewhere? It’s here.

 

March 1, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Climate, Weather, Data: Change Is the Name of the Game

Climate, Weather, Data: Change Is the Name of the Game

Nearly two years ago, NYS IPM convened “Climate, Weather, Data,” a statewide conference focused on pests and our changing climate. Because it’s here. It’s real. So … what will a shifting climate mean for our farms and forests, our parks and gardens?

The Climate Change Garden plans and plants for the future. Photo credit E. Lamb.

We brought together researchers, crop consultants, farmers, and more from New York and the Northeast for an eye-opening glimpse into the future. One example must speak for the rest: the Climate Change Garden, housed at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, demonstrates how a range of food and nectar crops are like messengers from the future. They speak to the effects of warming oceans, drought, heavy rain, and rising temperatures on food crops, pollinator resources, and superweeds.

As if on cue, the winter of 2015-16 followed by the drought of 2016 (not to mention the rains and temperature swings of 2017) was a messenger from the future in its own right. Drought threw a monkey wrench into IPM-funded research intended to create weed forecasting models in both conventional and organic systems. Conclusions? As the researcher charitably put it, the unusual 2016 weather provided a good opportunity to look at the limiting impact of low soil moisture; with additional years of data collection, this should be a valuable year.

And take IPM research on the brown-marmorated stink bug, aka BMSB. Because of the staggering number of crops on its chow-list, and, come winter, its role as a most unwelcome houseguest in offices and homes, BMSB has plenty of people riled. But dramatic temperature swings in winter and spring (especially spring) tricked BMSB into ditching its cold hardiness too soon and falling prey to that last sudden cold snap.

We could go on, but do we need to? You get the picture. It’s a brave new world out there, and change is the name of the game.

 

April 12, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Earth Day. It’s Every Day. Especially for Farmers.

Earth Day. It’s Every Day. Especially for Farmers.

For farmers everywhere, but perhaps most of all for organic farmers, every day has to be Earth Day. And since what matters for farmers matters for us all, every day is Earth Day for you, me, everyone.

Take farmer Lou Lego. He earned an Excellence in IPM award earlier this year for his inspired, inventive work putting IPM into action at 100-acre Elderberry Farm and Restaurant, midway between Owasco and Skaneateles lakes in New York’s Finger Lakes Region.

Pigs on pasture cycle carbon by eating and fertilizing grasses which take up carbon dioxide and return it to the ground. Watch the video at Elderberry Farm’s Facebook page.

According to Lou, Earth Day means thinking about the future — think of it as the “every day is Earth Day” approach. One day he’s thinking about cover crops or providing for beneficial insects. On another, tillage practices — about rebuilding and nourishing the soil. Yet another, slowing or reversing wind erosion. All good IPM.

And always about slowing or reversing climate change.

Every year, Lou says (and he’s been at this a while), his soil is richer, better, healthier. Healthier soil means healthier crops. And while healthy crops can’t ensure freedom from every disease and insect pest, still — healthier soils and crops are among the IPM tactics Lou relies on, the better to cope with pests that seem bent on destruction.

For Lou, though, dealing with greenhouse gases such as atmospheric carbon — that’s the biggie.

Granted, on Elderberry Farm it’s the “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” approach. And it takes a village — no, it takes pretty much all of us — to pull off climate change. What about on Lou’s scale?  Sure, healthier soils can help. Tilling right can help. The research is coming in and yes, sustainable agricultural practices (think IPM) have a role to play.

Tall cover crops and sunflowers bordered by trees provide habitat for beneficial insects and wild bees.

And growing trees helps. Elderberry Farm’s  fields are bounded by hedgerows or orchards, trees whose leaves pull carbon out of the atmosphere. Much stays in twigs and branches, but even more gets stashed in their roots — and they keep it there for the life of the tree and beyond.

For Lou Lego — and for IPM too — short term, long term: every day is Earth Day.

Photos courtesy Lou Lego.

Skip to toolbar