Summertime means outdoor activities, and this means plant and animal life are active. Susan and Jay Grayson came out to the Joe Ford Nature Park to hike the trails, and the question was "Is there any poison ivy?" I told the Graysons the best way to identify poison ivy is by three leaves, but that can describe a lot of plants.

The Virginia creeper vine can look like poison ivy because the younger leaves also consist of three leaflets, which have a few more serrations along the leaf edge and a somewhat wrinkled surface, however, most Virginia creeper leaves have five leaflets. Virginia creeper and poison ivy also will grow together on the same tree, but for those who do not get an allergic reaction to poison ivy, they could get a skin reaction from the creeper's sap.

Another plant - the fragrant sumac - is similar in appearance to poison ivy. Both species have three leaflets, but the ivy's leaflets are on a long stalk, while the sumac leaves are not. The sumac leaves have a citrusy smell and will flower before the leaves sprout in the spring, while poison ivy has little or no fragrance and will produce flowers after leaves emerge. Fragrant sumac fruit ripens to a deep reddish color and is covered with tiny hairs, while poison ivy fruit is smooth and ripens to a whitish color.

Do not confuse fragrant sumac with poison sumac because they are not the same. Poison sumac is a woody shrub or small tree growing to 30 feet tall and is found in wet clay soils such as swamps or bogs. Poison sumac is much more toxic than poison ivy or poison oak but for peace of mind, this plant is not commonly found in our region but could be spotted in the southern tip of Indiana.

Poison ivy is not a true vine as it is a member of the cashew and pistachio family and is a great food source for animals and birds. The color of a poison ivy leaf ranges from light green to dark green, which turns bright red in fall. Mature leaflets are somewhat shiny and grow on the trunk of a tree with yellowish- or greenish-white flowers from May to July. The oil of the vine is what creates the rash - not the oozing fluids released by the scratching of the blisters. Spreading of the rash indicates that some areas received more of the poison or other areas were in contact with contaminated clothing, gloves or garden implements.

If you have come in contact with poison ivy, immediately wash with soap and cool water, and use rubbing alcohol to remove the vine's oil. The use of a dishwashing liquid mix with a gritty substance also will exfoliate the skin, removing the oil, and will wash the substance away more easily. If a reaction does occur, Calamine, corticosteroids or prescribed medication will provide relief from the itching of the rash. In severe cases, it is wise to seek medical attention.

Whatever your adventure may be, know your terrain and wear appropriate clothing. Even in well-landscaped areas, poison ivy and Virginia creeper can be found. Most well-beaten trails will not have a lot of vine overgrowth but foraging into the heavily wooded terrains could result in contact with numerous plants that could result in a skin reaction. If you are a new nature enthusiast, start out in smaller parks to get a feel for plant and animal life.

The Joe Ford Nature Park is ideal for short hikes, bird and butterfly watching, with plenty of squirrels and deer. Snapping and box turtles also may make their presence known. For the younger children, the Nature Sensory Zone is partially completed and waiting for them to experience play in a natural setting. Picnic tables are available to complete a fun family experience, and the park is open from daylight to dark. So, come to the Joe Ford Nature Park and get into nature for the creation of lasting memories.

• The Daviess County Audubon Society has been awarded a $545 National Audubon Society collaborative grant to help repair the bird sanctuary at the Joe Ford Nature Center. The bird sanctuary is an outdoor education center of Daviess County used as a living classroom that stresses the importance of food, water and habitat that helps in maintaining the ecological balance necessary for birds' survival.

Over the past months, the JFNC bird sanctuary has been ravaged by falling trees weakened by time, high winds and the 2009 ice storm, resulting in one of the older trees falling and destroying the large covered platform bird feeder. The money will be used to replace the platform feeder and add two squirrel-resistant feeders along with the purchase of other posts which will provide a variety of feeding platforms for the resident birds and to round out the bird sanctuary environment a donated water feature was recently added to the property. The feeder area is enjoyed by goldfinches to grosbeaks, cardinals to indigo buntings and is easily accessible to bird watchers of all ages.

Nature Notes runs each Wednesday in Community. Deborah Branch can be reached by phone at 270-344-0596 or my email at jfncdirector2017@gmail.com. To get to JFNC take Second Street (U.S. 60 West) to GRADD Way.

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