Poison ivy is a member of the Toxicodendron genus of flowering plants which also includes poison oak and poison sumac. Poison ivy is the most common and widespread among the three. It typically grows as a shrub or vine and can be found throughout the United States and Canada (except Alaska, Hawaii and the desert areas of the Southwest). You can find them in the woods, by the road, and along the riverbanks. They can grow virtually anywhere in the home landscape.
Identifying Poison Ivy – What Poison Ivy Looks Like
“Leaves of three, let it be.” Remember this old saying that most parents like to tell their children to teach them not to touch a plant with cluster of three leaves because it might be poison ivy. The leaves of poison ivy are compound and each leaf consists of three leaflets on each stem. The top leaflet has a long stalk. The surface of the leaves may or may not have a waxy or oily surface that somewhat reflects the light. The stem on the lateral(side) leaflets can be so small as to be almost invisible. The stems of the two lateral leaflets are always directly opposite each other. The leaves are arranged in an alternate pattern on the stem and they may be hairy, or have no hairs at all.
- Poison ivy grows as a shrub in Northern and Western United and Canada.
- In the east, Midwest and south, poison ivy grows as a vine or free-standing plant
There are some harmless backyard plants confused with poison ivy due to their similar appearance to the poisonous plant especially the “Leaves of three” characteristic. These poison ivy look alike plants include Virginia creeper, box elder tree, brambles and fragrant sumac. Learn more about the poison ivy characteristics to help you correctly identify the poison plant from its harmless impostors. But if you’re not absolutely sure what it is, then it is safer not to touch it. Also learn what poison ivy looks like in all seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Poison Ivy Pictures – Showing Variation in Appearance
How to identify poison ivy in each season?
- Spring – the leaves are reddish with yellow-green flowers
- Summer – green
- Fall / Autum– the leaves turn to yellow then orange to red, with off-white berries
- During winter the leaves fall off and the stems are hairy . Although poison ivy plants die down in winter, they are not dormant. Urushiol remains active for at least five years on surfaces. Since urushiol is found in the leaves, flowers, berries, stems and roots of poison ivy, oak and sumac plants, you can get a rash even in the winter when a plant has lost all of its leaves.
What Causes Poison Ivy Rash?
Most people will develop an allergic reaction after exposure to poison ivy and other poisonous plants such as poison oak and sumac. The itchiness and redness of the skin are due to the body’s response to the oil found in these plants called ‘urushiol’. When the oil touches the skin, it often causes the itchy skin rash. Within minutes of contact with the oil, the skin starts to absorb it. But rash doesn’t appear right away. All parts of the plant, including stem and roots, contain urushiol, which affects the skin.
Burning poison ivy, poison oak and sumac can also cause skin rash as the plants release particles of urushiol into the air. Inhaling the smoke could also lead to severe allergic respiratory problems. Always keep in mind not to burn poison ivy, oak, and sumac.
Poison Ivy Symptoms
When you are exposed to poison ivy, it causes a skin rash which usually appears within 8-24hrs or a few days after exposure. It begins with itching followed by a red rash and sometimes swelling. The rash can be very itchy and can appear on any part of the body. You spread the oil by touching other parts of the body. Make sure not to touch your face or other sensitive areas like genitals to avoid spreading urushiol. Itchy bumps, patches, and streaking blisters are also common symptoms.
First Aid, Poison Ivy Remedies, and Poison Ivy Rash Treatment
- Rinse your skin thoroughly with rubbing alcohol or poison plant wash like Zanfel and Tecnu.
- Wash your skin with soap and lots of water. Rinsing with water alone will not remove the oil completely.
- Apply over-the-counter creams or lotion that work well in removing the oil.
- Itching can be reduced by applying calamine lotion or an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream.
- Use Oral Ivy for treating poison ivy symptoms. Put 10 drops of oral ivy in 2 ounces of water every 2 hours as needed. As symptoms improve, reduce it to once every 4 hours, then twice daily until symptoms disappear. Place drops under tongue in 2 ounces of water at least 15 minutes before or half hour after eating, brushing teeth or drinking anything except water.
Poison Ivy Prevention
- Stay away from areas where poison ivy grow.
- Remove poison ivy plants from your property, especially in areas where you work and play. Using herbicides to control the plant’s growth in your yard or garden is a good option. There are effective products that can kill poison ivy plant. But you have to be careful when using them so that desirable plants are not mistakenly killed as well. Roundup Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer is known to kill poison ivy and its relatives poison oak and poison sumac. The mixture is absorbed through the foliage of poison ivy and goes all throughout the plant, including the roots, ensuring a total kill.
- Wear long sleeves, closed shoes, socks, long pants tucked into the boots, and gloves if you think you may be getting around in areas where poison ivy may grow.
- Wash exposed clothing that comes in contact with the poison ivy. Use hot water with detergent or use a poison ivy wash like Tecnu Original.
- Urushiol can stick to almost anything including gardening tools and camping equipment. Clean your tools after use by washing them with soap and lots of water.
- Use certain creams/lotions can help to prevent poison ivy rash by removing urushiol from your skin, clothing, and gears. There are special products like Tecnu and Zanfel for removing urushiol. Zanfel relieves pain and itching in minutes. It’s safe for children and nursing or pregnant women. Zanfel is known to remove urushiol, the oil compound responsible for the reaction, from your skin, instead of just treating the symptoms.
- Keep your pets from running through poison ivy areas. If you think they play around where the plant may grow, wash them immediately with pet soap/shampoo and rinse thoroughly with water to remove urushiol from their fur. A person can be exposed to urushiol by touching the pet’s fur that comes in contact with the poisonous plants. You can also use Tecnu Original to remove urushiol from your pets, clothes, tools, and gears.
- Start taking oral ivy before the growing season. Take 3 to 5 drops of Oral Ivy in a small glass of water daily by mouth 7 to 14 days before exposure and continue throughout the poison ivy season.
- Apply barrier skin creams or lotions that block the oil from getting into your skin.
- Learn to recognize the poison ivy plant.
When to seek medical help and see a doctor?
There are several poison ivy rash relief and treatments that you could do at home. However, those remedies might not work at all times if you experience the following symptoms:
- The rash covers more than one-third of your body
- You experience swelling
- Too many blisters and rashes
- Blisters ooze pus
- The rash shows signs of infection. You likely have infection if you develop a fever or experience swelling, pain, pus, and warmth around the rash.
- You have severe experience from urushiol before
- Poison ivy rash develops on your face (especially near the eyes and mouth) and genitals
- Swelling of the eyes
- You have difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Doesn’t improve after 7 to 10 days
If you experience those signs and symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Serious cases require medical supervision and prescription treatment.