Perplexing Plants


Dear Readers:identify poison ivy and oak

It's that time of year again, flowers and foliage are in full bloom! This also means those sneaky poisonous plants that cause unpleasant skin irritations are also lush and lively.

Whether it grows as a vine, shrub, or ground cover, these plants are lurking in the forests, trails, on bike paths, and in backyards, awaiting the perfect opportunity to catch you off-guard and wreak havoc on your skin!  What is it that makes most outdoor enthusiasts so vulnerable to poison oak, ivy, sumac, and Virginia creeper? The inability to correctly identify them!  In an effort to spare you from falling victim to the dreaded rash this foul foliage can cause you, we've gathered descriptions for poison oak, ivy, sumac, and Virginia creeper. We also encourage you to visit our website for full-color images to better prepare yourselves for your next outing!

  • Poison Ivy: Grows throughout much of North America, including all Canadian provinces except Newfoundland (and the Territories) and all US states except Alaska, Oregon, Hawaii and California. The plants can grow as a shrub up to about 4 feet tall, as a groundcover, or as a climbing vine. The color of the three almond-shaped leaflets range from light to dark green and turn bright red in the fall. The plant's berries are a grayish-white color.
  • Poison Oak: Poison oak is found along the Pacific Coast of North America including Washington, Oregon and California, and along the Atlantic Coast. Poison oak can grow as a dense shrub in open sunlight or a climbing vine in shaded areas. The three leaflets have scalloped edges resembling the leaves of a true oak and can be bronze, bright green, yellow-green or reddish depending on the season. The plant can produce greenish-white or tan berries.
  • Poison Sumac: Poison sumac grows exclusively in very wet or flooded soils, usually in swamps and peat bogs, in the eastern United States as far west as Idaho and Canada. Poison sumac has compound leaves with 7-13 leaflets, and the veins from which the leaflets grow are always red. The plant grows as a shrub and produces fruit that is a small white or grey berry.
  • Virginia Creeper: Grows throughout the Southern, Midwestern, and Eastern half of the United States.  Creeper is also native to Northern Mexico, and Southeastern Canada. Virginia creeper is often confused with eastern poison ivy, however the clear difference is in the number of leaves; ivy has three leaflets, while Virginia creeper has five leaflets that range 2-6 inches in diameter and have toothed margins. Wood vines grow as ground cover, and often climb surrounding trees. Green leaves quickly turn to red as the plant matures, and the vine has clusters of bluish-black berries that are highly toxic to humans and may be fatal if consumed. While Virginia creeper is not considered poisonous, it does contain oxalate crystals that can cause skin irritation and rashes in some people. (

Class is now dismissed fellow adventurers! Study up before you head outdoors and just in case, pack a bottle of Tecnu or Tecnu Extreme!

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2 comments for “Perplexing Plants”

  1. Posted 8/28/2015 at 6:11:59 PM
    Gravatar of Gerald

    hello! for the longest time i have thought virginia creeper to be poison oak. that was until I have my class in dendrology i am taking now and the professor pointed it out as virginia creeper. When you say the it can cause a rash how severe of a rash? and can some poison oak have 5 leaves making it look identical to virginia creeper? please contact me back, thank you!

  2. Posted 8/31/2015 at 9:10:08 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Gerald, as we don't make products for Virginia Creeper, we are not as versed in the symptoms of the rash it causes. Perhaps the professor of your class might have a better idea? Poison oak most often grows in leaves of 3, however, there have been instances where plants have produced clusters of 5, sometimes 7 leaflets.

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