How to Recognize Poison Ivy Plants

Poison Ivy may look like a harmless plant, but it can cause contact dermatitis just by touching it.  Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to something that you have touched which, in the case of poison ivy, is a resin called urushiol oil.  This allergic reaction can be very severe in certain individuals.  Unfortunately, poison ivy may be found almost anywhere in the United States except for in desert areas and really high elevations.  Alaska and Hawaii and also spared of this odious plant, although poison ivy may even be found at the beach. 

The best way to deal with poison ivy is to know what it looks like and avoid it.  If you find it close to your house, you will want to take measure to eradicate it.  So, what does it look like? 

Have you ever heard the saying: “Leaves of three, let them be?”  This saying came around because the pointy leaves of poison ivy plants will always come in sets of three, with the middle leaf having a longer stalk than the ones on either side of it.  The edges of the leaves are sometimes smooth and can sometimes be notched.  The size of the leaf can range greatly in length. 

These leaves are shiny and can be found in different colors at different times of the year.  In the spring, poison ivy leaves come in as a bright, shiny red.  New growth, even during the summer season, will also be red.  In the summer, most of the leaves will be green and not quite as shiny.  Poison ivy can actually become quite beautiful in the fall, as it will turn orange, red, and yellow, but beware, it can still make you itch.  The bad news is that even after poison ivy has lost its leaves in the winter; it can still cause a reaction!  You will sometimes see a vine, devoid of leaves in the winter, climbing a tree with thick, hairy looking roots.  You are very likely looking at poison ivy.

Poison ivy may grow white and green flowers in the spring, but they are small and not very noticeable.  This plant will also develop green berries in the summer or fall which will slowly change to white over the course of the season.

Does it climb?  Can it creep?  Can it be found as a bush?  Unfortunately, the answer is “yes” to all three of those questions. Since poison ivy can climb, you will want to make sure that you check first before climbing a tree.  You will also want to make sure that poison ivy is not clinging to any firewood that you have chopped as it is dangerous to be near the smoke of burning ivy vines.  Creeping poison ivy is not uncommon at the edge of a field, road, or forest.  A really content poison ivy plant can also become a fairly large shrub.

One thing that you will want to be careful to consider is that poison ivy may be hidden among other vegetation, so you should always be on guard no matter the season.  If you do contact poison ivy, be sure to wash with cold (not hot) water.  You can also try to rub off the oil with alcohol.  Always seek medical help if a reaction seems severe.  The key is to first know what poison ivy looks like and then be on the lookout for it to prevent a reaction from ever occurring.