Riddle Reader Beware


If looks can kill,
this plant wouldn’t,
although, it’s bold, rash
and may drive riddle
readers mad.
This mystery plant
points toward earth
in leaves of three.
Its vines hug host trees
and trip unwary hikers.
It’s tinged with
red in spring.
It blends. It hides
in plain sight like
the Purloined Letter.
Edgar Allen Poe himself
would fear this
mean green menace,
this scourge of the
shady underbrush.
Even its latin name warns,
Toxicodendron radicans.
Its common name
evokes fear of torture
by red blisters.
Have you guessed?
Poison ivy!

Copyright 2016 Brenda Davis Harsham

Notes: How soon did you guess it? Did you recognize it from its picture? My children and I dread the vine, and we’ve learned its many faces. We’re highly allergic to urushiol (u-ROO-she-ol), an oil in the poisonous three: sumac, oak and ivy. But despite its name, the rash isn’t fatal. You just might wish it were.

This riddle is my contribution to Poetry Friday, this week hosted by Katie at the Logonauts. Thanks, Katie!

poetry friday button

Update: I grieve with the City of Dallas today. As we face more senseless violence, I am comforted by the non-hate-filled rhetoric of Obama, who is quoted by the BBC: ‘Mr Obama added that “when people are armed with powerful weapons it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic”, a subject that, he said, must be addressed in “the days ahead”.’

Thanks to those who agree that powerful weapons are too deadly to be easily available:

Sign Petition to Ban Assault Weapons

50 thoughts on “Riddle Reader Beware

  1. I had a rather itchy encounter with this beautiful terror some years back. Then, I had no appreciation of the commonly heard warnings until I got those little red welts that formed a straight line on my ankles and I scratched, and because scratching felt so heavenly, scratched some more. Until I itched all over. Because I was then pregnant, I could not use over the counter remedies. I soaked my legs in hot water. Little did I know that the heat spread the oil. So I began using cold water (in winter at that!) and pressing an ice pack on the itchiest parts. Oh, that was a miserable time. Now, I am wiser about getting close to poison ivy and messing with a rash when I do get one. However, I am happy to note that my brush with the toxin kind of mitigated my susceptability to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No, I didn’t guess. I don’t think I’ve ever met Miss Poison Ivy. 😉 I’m kind of wary of touching a lot of plants generally, simply because I don’t know enough about them. There is a plant we have in Norwich that tends to grow in shady areas, has huge leaves (have forgotten the name of it now!) it can give a nasty rash and blisters. It’s probably the only plant I would recognise as a problem simply because it’s so giant!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I being a good scout knew and point it out to my grandies so they can evade it’s treacherous deeds. I take antibacterial clear liquid and pour it on my hands then move from knees to ankles until soaking if I tread through it to take photos. My one grandson and a dear friend both almost can look at it and get a rash! 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never seen poison ivy so this post is invaluable to identify it by if we are ever somewhere that has it. I assumed that it would look more like they typical ivy plant… shows how little I know !
    p.s. the shooting and the aftermath now and in days too come… stay safe people, and remember that EVERY human life matters. In light of all the mass shootings over the years I am still shocked that the USA Govt hasn’t manage to ban automatic weapons. We have a few odd , rare, gun crimes here in the Netherlands, but this.. shootings like what happens often in the US is completely unheard of. A result of hard laws on gun ownership here. I can only hope that all people could respect human life more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would hope that people would value human life over their interest in a hobby of shooting at a gun range. People don’t seem to see it that way. “Guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people,” is what the gun defenders say.


  5. I knew the answer to the riddle from my first peek at your picture: “Leaves of three, let it be!” I’m not highly allergic to the poisons (oak, ivy, sumac), but I’ve itched enough to give it a wide berth, and I’ve seen the oozing, spreading blisters of friends who ARE allergic. Yikes! My summer nemesis is the chigger. I hate those little buggers, but I’ve learned to repel them with sulfur.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh I love this riddle. Yes, I did guess but I loved the hints you gave along the way. We don’t have poison ivy in Australia but I’ve come across it in many books and so it feels like an old (though nasty) friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This reminds me of when I was in college taking a dendrology class. We had to identify many plants during our finals. One way we identified some was taste… (like the wintergreen taste of a one kind). So I see a student put a poison ivy plant in his mouth…! It was during the final, but I went over to warn him, after all, if this person was allergic, this could have been very, very bad. When the TA saw me going over, he got upset, but I told him the guy was going to put in his mouth! He told me, to be quiet because it was a test! I was horrified. I believe the kid did get a very bad case of PI in his mouth…Yikes. Seriously?!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am not “very” allergic, but was hit once in my fervor to clean out a weed patch. Oh my, not fun! But your poem riddle added a mysterious tone with that connection to The Purloined Letter, Brenda.

    Liked by 1 person

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