Beware! Poison Ivy

Leaves of three — let them be!

 You’ve probably heard that little rhyme about Poison Ivy, the plant that can cause an itchy rash. Poison ivy as well as poison oak, and poison sumac all contain the same rash-causing substance called urushiol (say: yoo-ROO-shee-ol), a colorless, odorless oil in the plants.

You can identify Poison Ivy by its three leaflets (this is called a compound leaf). They can have teeth, lobes, or just a smooth edge. Poison Ivy grows as both a shrub and a vine, and it can grow almost anywhere. You can get the rash anytime of the year, so it is important to know what the plant looks like in any season.

In early spring, Poison Ivy leaves are delicate and shiny.


By summer, the leaves are more sturdy and solid green. Look carefully, you can see the older branches have little hairs that help the vine attach to the tree. “If hairy, be wary!”



In fall, Poison Ivy is one of the first plants to change color. The leaves range from golden yellow to scarlet.


In the winter, only the vines and few remaining berries (whitish yellow) identify the plant.


Only humans are allergic to Poison Ivy. Its leaves and berries provide an important food source for animals like deer, raccoons, muskrats, and wild turkeys.


How can you prevent rashes from Poison Ivy? The best way is to avoid this plant in the first place.

  • Know what it looks like in each of the seasons and keep on the look out.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants when you’re in areas that could contain poison plants.
  • If you come into contact with urushiol oil, try to wash it off your skin right away. But don’t take a bath! If you do, the oil can get in the bath water and spread to other areas of your body. Take a shower instead, and be sure to use soap. And if your dog has been out exploring the woods, you might want to give your pet a shower, too!
  • And, never, ever try to get rid of Poison Ivy plants by burning! The urushiol can be vaporized into the smoke and get into your mouth, throat, lungs and eyes!