Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) - If you’re allergic, you want to destroy them.

But, despite their reputation, the three-leafed vines do serve a purpose. Both are native to America and caught European explorers by surprise. Captain John Smith wrote, “The poisoned weed is much in shape like our English ivy, but being touched, causeth redness, itching, and lastly, blisters.” Pocahontas could have warned him. After all, Indian warriors coated arrow tips with poison ivy, and medicine men rubbed its leaves on infections in an effort to break open swollen skin. Physicians in the Colonies learned something new and expanded the plant’s use to the treatment of herpes, eczema, arthritis, warts, ringworm, and rattlesnake bites. Many birds, including cedar waxwings, woodpeckers, tufted titmice, American robins, yellow-rumped warblers and more, are fond of poison ivy and eat the berries from these plants in the fall and winter. Unaffected by the toxic oil, small animals like fox squirrels seek shelter in poison oak thickets and feed on its summer berries. Birds – notably the California towhee – have formed a symbiotic relationship with poison oak, building its nests among the plants and feeding on the white berries, then spreading the seeds through excrement. When rivers flood during the winter, the western pond turtle takes to poison oak patches for shelter. Meanwhile, large herbivores, such as deer, feed on the leaves and stems of the plant, while domesticated goats also happily munch away unharmed.