TO IDENTIFY POISON IVY
The best way to
avoid poison ivy is to learn to identify it.
(Note that these criteria apply to poison ivy but not necessarily poison oak or
sumac.) There are only three things that
are absolutely true about poison ivy identification:
ivy always has 3 leaves
Poison ivy never has more
than 3 leaves on each stem. If you see 5 leaves, 7 leaves or any number
higher than 3, you're not looking at poison ivy (however, you
could be looking at poison oak or sumac, which I don't have photos
If you see a
group of 3 leaves on a vine but also see a group of 5 or more
leaves on the same vine, then that can't be poison ivy. (You're
most likely looking at Virginia Creeper instead, which is a harmless plant.)
Occasionally a poison ivy leaflet drops off and you'll have 2 in a bunch, but
never more than 3.
The correct way to describe poison ivy
is to say each poison ivy leaf consists of 3 leaflets. The picture at
the right shows one poison ivy leaf (circled in orange). That leaf
consists of 3 leaflets. Whether you
call them leaves or leaflets, just remember there
are always 3.
ivy does not have thorns
Raspberries, blackberries, and other bramble-type plants look very similar to poison
ivy because they have 3 leaflets and even may have leaf
"notches" like poison ivy can have, but they have
thorns on the stems. Poison ivy stems are either smooth or hairy,
The picture to the
right is NOT
poison ivy because the stem is thorny. I believe this is a wild
raspberry bush since I saw others in the vicinity that were
Click the photo to
see a larger version that clearly shows the thorns. In the full
size photo, look in the lower right corner... that IS poison ivy
hidden in with the raspberry bush. Look out for that sort of thing
because poison ivy frequently grows intermixed with other plants!
|3. Leaves are
arranged alternately on the stem
means each leaf or groups of leaflets don't grow right across from each
other and usually alternate sides of the stem. The poison ivy
picture on the right shows that. Click on the photo
to see a larger version.
The other type of
leaf arrangement is called
"opposite". Leaves that are arranged opposite from each
other are right across the stem from each other. Young Box Elder
trees are often mistaken for poison ivy, however, Box Elder leaves
are opposite. Poison ivy leaves are never opposite - they are always
The diagram below shows
more about the difference between
alternate and opposite leaf arrangement:
Alternate leaves only have a single leaf (or group of
leaflets) attached at one location on a stem, often the
leaves alternate from one side to the other as they go
along the stem, or they may be in a spiral pattern. Poison
ivy has three leaflets occurring alternately on the stem.
Opposite leaves refer to two leaves being attached at
the same location on a stem, but opposite each other on
either side of the stem. Box elder and young maple trees have
Now that we've
learned the three hard and fast rules, here is other popular criteria for poison
ivy identification. However, you can't completely count on these things to
ALWAYS be true, so don't ever count on them exclusively.
Poison ivy stems are not always red.
Sometimes yes, but they can also be green.
there is a red dot in the middle of the three leaflets, but not always.
Some poison ivy plants are entirely green with no red any place on any of
stems have "hair" on them (dark tendril-like hairs).
Sometimes yes, especially when the plant is trying to climb something.
However, stems can also be slightly fuzzy or even completely bare.
leaves are not always shiny and/or red.
Leaves can be light green, yellow green, dark green, orangish,
reddish, or even brownish. Leaves might be oily-looking or they may be dull.
they can even be multi-colored (green with yellow or brown spots) if the
plant has been out in hot sun for too long.
have a notched pattern, but others do not.
The picture at the top of the page shows a plant with notches, but the
photo showing alternate leaf arrangement does not. Although notches are common,
leave sides (margins) might be smooth or slightly toothed. Leaves can be
short or long, thin or fat, large or small.
has white (or very pale yellow) flowers and white berries.
True, but it might not be in bloom or have berries at the moment.
Poison Ivy can grow practically
anywhere. It can be in deep woods to full sun fields to the beach. It grows on telephone poles, signs, fences and trees,
or it can be a free-standing plant or bush. It has no soil preferences and can
grow in anything from dry, sandy, clay-filled soil to dark, rich soil. It
often creeps along the ground. So long as there's some kind of soil, sunlight and water, it will grow.
is not limited to wild areas, either. Poison ivy is fond of gardens and fence
lines in your yard. It likes to grow against the house or garage or inside of
your bushes and hedges. It will be hidden in with your other
About the only place poison ivy usually does not grow (at least not for very long) is in mowed lawns. Thatís because mowers cut off the leaves. Poison ivy needs its leaves to
make food through photosynthesis. Without food, it will die. This is why
you almost never see it growing in the middle of a lawn. However, if you only weed whack a fence every couple weeks, poison ivy can move right
TO KILL POISON IVY
great way to kill ivy off in the yard is a spectrum herbicide similar to Round Up. However, be careful,
because things like Round Up will kill everything, not just the ivy. Another reported method is to put vinegar on the
leaves and the sun will help kill it off. However, you usually have to do that
more than once to be effective. Vinegar will also kill everything else it
course, you can't and shouldn't carry Round Up on a photo shoot. A better idea
is to just learn to avoid poison ivy.
By the way, NEVER burn poison
ivy! The urushiol oil can spread in the wind, get into your lungs
(or someone else's), and cause a severe reaction.