How to Identify Poison Ivy and Oak

Written by melissa king
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How to Identify Poison Ivy and Oak
Poison ivy blends in with other plants, sometimes making it difficult to identify. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Few things can ruin a picnic or camping trip like a rash obtained from poison ivy or poison oak. Merely brushing against either of these poisonous plants often results in the affected area itching, blistering and swelling. Poison ivy and oak rashes are rarely fatal, but they often cause severe discomfort for several weeks. Unpleasant rashes can be avoided, though, if you learn to recognise and avoid poison ivy and poison oak.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Look for poison ivy on the ground or climbing up trees, fences or walls. Poison oak, unlike poison ivy, is not much of a climber. It generally forms a small shrub.

  2. 2

    Examine the number of leaves on the plant. For both poison ivy and poison oak, each leaf cluster bears three leaves.

  3. 3

    Look at the shape of the leaves. Poison ivy leaves have smooth edges. The centre leaf grows on a longer stalk than the other two leaves. The leaves of poison oak are lobed, or jagged. Poison oak and ivy leaf sizes may vary greatly.

  4. 4

    Search the plant for the presence of small, white berries. White berries with a waxy coat indicate that the plant is poison ivy. Tiny green flowers also grow on the poison ivy plant. Poison oak plants may bear green or white berries.

  5. 5

    Look at the colours of the leaves. In the spring, poison ivy leaves are somewhat red. They are green during the summer, reverting to their original orange-red colouring when autumn arrives. Poison oak leaves also change colours in much the same way.

Tips and warnings

  • Virgina creeper looks much like poison ivy, but it is not dangerous. This plant has five leaves instead of three, and its berries are bluish-black.

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