Identifying What Poison Ivy Looks Like

Do not be mistaken, contrary to what many people say, poison ivy is not so easy to identify. Lots of people just say that if you want to know what poison ivy looks like, look out for the leaves which are made up of three leaflets, but the truth is that many plants have similar looking leaves. It is for this reason that poison ivy is commonly confused with other plants. For instance, it is the Virginia creeper, which is a woody vine, which is most commonly confused with poison ivy. The tendrils of the Virginia creeper are just somewhat larger than those of the poison ivy.

Poison ivy also needs to be distinguished from poison oak and sumac which also all contain urushiol. They, too, grow in fields, wooded forests and dry rocky places. Allergic reactions appear soon after coming in contact with any of these plants. Stinging plants have hairs on stems and leaves, and these hairs contain irritants that are injected into the skin. The rash from these stinging plants is known as contact dermatitis.

Poison Ivy is More Potent in Summer

If you love pitching a tent and exploring the countryside, you will quickly discover that poison ivy is one of the most commonly encountered poisonous plants, and every part of the poison ivy, right down to its roots, is poisonous throughout the year. There are many people who make a point of getting to know the life cycle of the poison ivy plant, so that they know when the oils are most potent, which is in the height of summer.

Videos and Poison Ivy Posters Help with Identifying Noxious Plants

The poison ivy’s scientific name is Toxicodendron radicans, and even today people disagree over whether poison ivy is one species with some variations, or whether it is made up of different species. Fortunately, the Internet as well as garden centres provide valuable and indispensable information for those who love the outdoors and who want to get to know the poison ivy plant a little better in order to steer clear of it. They offer videos, poison ivy posters and cards to help you identify and avoid the plant. In this case, the best defence is to arm yourself with knowledge. The ivy thrives in wild, uncultivated areas such as along riverbanks and woody areas, and is common along roadsides but it may even be found making its appearance in well-tended gardens.

Recognize Poison Ivy and Avoid It

You really have to understand the plants well and know that there are variations in the different locations. You will find that the leaf shape varies on different plants as well. The two side leaflets have very little stalk, while the top leaflet of the threesome has a longer stalk and stands out easily.

Recognize Poison Ivy in its Various Forms

Poison ivy can be found in different forms:

  • As a ground cover: poison ivy often grows along the surface of the ground, especially in more shaded areas, forming dense patches which could reach 20 feet long.
  • As a shrub: it has one woody stem with side branches, and grows up to ten feet tall.
  • As a vine: it can attach itself to anything from a tree to a fence, and grow right to the very top. The hairs on the stem are called aerial roots, allowing the vine to literally cling to anything that can support it. Touching any part of the ivy plant can cause an itchy rash and pimples.

The Leaf Pattern

The leaflets are toothed, lobed or smooth-edged and they grow alternately on the vine; in other words, one leaf on the left of the stem, the next one on the right, then left and so on. During the summer the leaves are shiny green, but in the spring they turn a more reddish color. That reddish color in indicative of anthocyanin, which are also known as flavonoids, providing color to most fruits, flowers and leaves. Anthocyanins protect the poison ivy leaves from ultraviolet radiation and it is also a deterrent for herbivorous animals eating them. Once the green chlorophyll begins to emerge, the young leaves start to change color. When the fall approaches, they turn to pale yellow, orange and red. Even when the leaves are turning brown in the early fall they can still be toxic.

Poison Ivy Also Flowers

Poison oak and poison ivy leaves are shiny when they are young. The plant also sprouts a rather dull looking flower of a white/green color which matures into an off-white berry .The poison ivy flowers around May or June, and are fairly small with five petals; these are often obscured by the foliage. The flowers yield tiny, berry fruits which are green at first, but become whitish upon ripening. The poison ivy plants do not flower every year, and it is important that you do not rely on these flowers as your main characteristic.

The Poison Ivy’s Habitat

The poison ivy plant is found in woody areas across North America and Central America too, and these days you will also find them in New Zealand, Europe, Canada, Asia and Africa. The plant thrives in rich, moist soil, and is common around water like rivers and swamps. Do note, however, that the hardy poison ivy is not restricted to watery areas and grows very well in a number of other habitats and climates. It does well in sunshine and in shady areas. Different types of the poison ivy will be found in one particular area like the West Coast while another type will not be found there at all. Unfortunately, poison ivy is on the increase due to warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels, and the worrying thing is that the poison ivy appears to be getting more toxic as well. The poison ivy is a true survivor, and benefits from the enriched atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. No matter how extreme the weather conditions, whether drought or flood, it will thrive.

Pictures of Poison Ivy Leaves and Vines


The poison ivy seed germinates more or less in April and May. The seedlings mostly develop in shady spots and the tiny vines have the same leaf stem proportions as the adult leaf. The plant sends out runners to start a new plant and looks for a tree or pole to climb. Contrary to what people think, instead of winding all around a tree, the poison ivy usually grows up just one side of the trunk. It starts growing quickly and relentlessly climbs right to the top of the tallest trees. Animals and birds enjoy eating them and suffer no bad reaction from them as humans do.

Parks, fields and woodlands are favorite places for people to get out, relax and enjoy the great outdoors. Camping and hiking are popular activities, but your entire outing can be marred when unwelcome stings, rashes, breathing difficulties and swelling threaten to turn it into a nightmare. Knowing which toxic plants to look out for can help you have an enjoyable experience in remote areas.