Virginia Tech researchers itching to learn more about poison ivy conduct research along Appalachian Trail

Three hikers on a trail in the woods.

John Jelesko (left), professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science and his team hiked part of the Appalachian Trail this summer in order to study poison ivy’s genetics and its growth behavior.

By Amy Loeffler

You don’t have to be a scientist to know about poison ivy’s ability to cause an all-consuming itch and terrible rashes, but scientific knowledge about the plant itself and how it grows is scant.

img_0394John Jelesko, associate professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, is part of a team of researchers that is out to change that. He and his collaborators recently hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail to map growth patterns of poison ivy using a smart phone app. They also cataloged samples by hand to learn more about where poison ivy propagates and its genetic makeup.

Jelesko hopes to eventually hike the entire Appalachian Trail, extensively cataloging the poison ivy samples he finds and enlisting the help of
citizen scientists to geotag poison ivy populations.

Though he didn’t experience any itching on the team’s most-recent research trip, Jelesko did pick up a nickname, courtesy of his fellow hikers. The name? Rash.