I’ve always been hesitant to take the kids to Park Point Trail. It’s known for a vast crop of poison ivy. This fact makes my skin crawl recalling the summer I had urushiol-induced contact dermatitis — three different times. You’d think I would have learned to identify it after the first.
Plant identification can be tricky, especially for Eastern poison ivy, which can grow on the ground, appear as a bush, and as the name implies, climb like a vine.
Tim and I thought hiking the 2-mile trail from the Sky Harbor Airport to the tip of Minnesota Point would offer our family an opportunity to practice poison ivy identification while enjoying this unique area of Duluth.
Park Point Trail and Poison Ivy
We set off in our long pants, chanting the phrase, “Leaves of three, let it be.”
Here’s what we collectively knew about poison ivy:
- It will have three leaves.
- Two of its leaves may look like mittens.
- It has a reddish tint to its leaves in spring and to its stem in summer.
- The leaves often look glossy (whether red or green).
- It has clumps of white berries in the spring.
But then we noticed there are lots of plants with three leaves, and some were reddish.
It took us a while to figure out these are NOT poison ivy because they have 5 leaves. The 3 on the end caught our eye, but poison ivy doesn’t have the 2 below.
This one is NOT poison ivy despite having three leaves because it has saw-tooth edges, which never occur in poison ivy.
Here is one that really confuses me. It has three leaves and the mittens (see how the 2 bottom leaves have the shape of mittens with thumbs). But can poison ivy be this large already in early June in Duluth? It’s not really glossy either.
Without being able to positively identify it, we steered clear.
We finally saw patches with three reddish leaves and clumps of white berries. The leaves were much redder than we expected, but the white berries gave the plant away as poison ivy. It was everywhere!
Resources Are Available (If You Are Resourceful)
What made the hike comical was that we stood around each of these plants and discussed their properties ad nauseum. It is poison ivy? Or not? It never occurred to us to pull out our pocket computers and get Google’s help on the spot. It wasn’t until we returned home and explored Poison-Ivy.Org from the safety of our house that we felt almost-confident in our conclusions.
Park Point Trail and Over-Protective Parenting
To be honest, I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t learn to identify poison ivy on our hike. However, what they will likely remember is their parents barking, “Watch out!” and “Stay in the middle of the trail!” and “Watch where you are walking!” to avoid coming in contact with any three-leaved plants.
Perhaps they will also remember…
- watching a float plane cruise across the bay,
- exploring the sand dunes,
- climbing and jumping off the awesome tree in the old-growth forest,
- seeing the area’s first light house remains,
- going inside the dark abandoned US Army Corps of Engineers boat house,
- and waving to the boats passing through the Wisconsin entrance to the harbor.
While a great lesson in botany, it wasn’t the most relaxing outdoor experience. In the end, I’m glad we went in the late spring/early summer, when the poison ivy plants were young…and small, giving them less reach in the trail and more room for little legs to avoid them.
Have you hiked the Park Point Trail? Share your experiences in the comment box below. Thanks!