Published 12:00 am Monday, July 16, 2007

If the specter of melting ice caps, rising sea levels and shifting climate zones isn’t enough to stir concern about global warming, what about faster growing poison ivy and more rampant kudzu?
Based on recent research, scientists say rising greenhouse gases will accelerate the growth rates of many woody vines. A six-year experiment at Duke University found that raising carbon dioxide levels to those expected in the year 2050 will almost triple the growth rate of poison ivy. Even worse, the pumped-up ivy also has far more potent urushiol, the oily stuffy that produces a miserable rash for most people who come in contact with the plant. And don’t think you can dismiss this as another of those computer-generated studies conceived in the air-conditioned comfort of a poison-ivy free office. The findings are based on actual poison ivy grown in a forest where researchers pumped in higher levels of CO2 to simulate the increased level of the greenhouse gas expected within a few decades. In fact, scientists say the higher carbon dioxide pumped up the growth rate so quickly, they think the woody vine could alter the composition of forests by choking off trees.
This may be good news for makers of Benadryl, but not so good for hikers, campers, gardeners and others who spend time in the outdoors. And if rising greenhouse gases have a simular effect on kudzu, as scientists believe will be the case, we could be in for big trouble.