Poison Ivy

In his 2006 Twinleaf article, "Garden Weeds in the Age of Jefferson," Peter Hatch mentions that Thomas Jefferson considered poison ivy to be an ornamental plant, possibly because of its dramatic fall color.[1]

Jefferson listed elaborate plans for the grounds at Monticello in his Garden Book[2] and Account Book 1771; under "The Open Ground on the West[3] - a shrubbery" Jefferson included "poison oak" under "trees."[4] We assume this to be a reference to poison ivy (Rhus radicans), perhaps included under trees because it is often found climbing up tree trunks. Jefferson also listed other vines under "trees," including "Honeysuckle" and "Jessamine."

Footnotes

  1. Hatch, Peter. "Garden Weeds in the Age of Jefferson." Twinleaf 18:19-26. Available online at http://www.twinleaf.org/pdfs/2006/weeds.pdf.
  2. Betts, Garden Book, 23.
  3. Presumably what eventually became the West Lawn.
  4. Betts, Garden Book, 27.

Discussion

says

This may be one of the worst gardening ideas I have ever heard. Yes, poison ivy has beautiful fall color, but it is (as you must know) the cause of a terrible itchy rash. I do not know anyone who would consider cultivating it in their garden. It is one of those fall foliage plants that should only be enjoyed from a distance and left to grow in the woods.

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