The Curious Poisoned Weed: Poison Ivy Ecology and Physiology

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Virginia Tech


Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans (L.) Kuntze) is a native perennial liana widely recognized for the production of urushiol, and the associated contact dermatitis it causes in humans. Poison ivy is predicted to become both more prevalent and more noxious in response to projected patterns of global change. Moreover, poison ivy is an important food source for avian species, and urushiol has numerous applications as a high-value engineering material. Thus, this curious weed has many avenues for future concern, and promise. Here, I address gaps in knowledge about poison ivy ecology and physiology so that we may better understand its weediness and utilize its benefits. I address three core areas: poison ivy establishment patterns; biotic interactions with multiple taxa; and the development of molecular tools for use in poison ivy. I found that the early life stage of seedling emergence is a critical linchpin in poison ivy establishment due largely to herbivore pressure from large grazers. I also describe the multifaceted relationship between poison ivy and avian frugivores that not only disperse the drupes of poison ivy but also aid in reduction of fungal endophytic phytopathogens. A survey of poison ivy urushiols yielded that while variation in urushiol congeners was high across individuals, relative congener levels were stable within individuals over a two month period. Lastly I demonstrate best practices for introducing and transiently expressing recombinant DNA in poison ivy as a step towards future reverse genetic procedures.



Liana, poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, urushiol