Before you get underway, we want you to be on the lookout for this three-leaf friend of ours, POISON IVY (Rhus radicans). The famed three leaves of this common plant are really quite variable. They can be dull or shiny, the edges may be smooth or deeply lobed, and they can range in color from pale green to dark green to red. Poison ivy grows as a ground plant (6 to 12 inches tall) and also as a vine.

But we want you to be aware of poison ivy, not afraid of it. The skin rash it is responsible for is caused by coming into direct contact with an oily sap that coats the plant, so as long as you don’t touch it, you’ll be fine. And besides, even though it is occasionally an itchy, red problem for some people, poison ivy is one of the most helpful plants at Severson Dells. The vines that grow along the ground provide excellent protection against erosion of the forest floor, and strips of shaggy bark from these vines provide nesting material for birds. In addition to this, rabbits and deer like to snack on the plant’s leaves and twigs, and in the fall, several kinds of resident birds, including all of the woodpeckers, eat the berries.

In direct contrast to the usefulness of poison ivy is the invasiveness of GARLIC MUSTARD (Alliaria officinalis). This non-native species was brought over from Europe when the area was originally settled. You don’t have to strain your eyesight too much to find garlic mustard all along the edges of the hard-surfaced trail.