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  • How to Identify Poison Ivy

     How to Identify Poison IvyPoison ivy is a plant that belongs to the cashew family. Commonly found across the United States, poison ivy is known for the urushiol oil found in it's roots, stems and leaves. Contact with the oil can cause a painful, itchy skin rash that is easily transferred between clothing and people. Properly identifying the poison ivy plant can help prevent a surprise encounter (and potentially negative outdoor experience).


    Difficulty: Moderately Easy

    Step 1
    Evaluate the plant as a whole. Poison ivy undergoes changes each season. However, it can cover the ground, look similar to an upright shrub or climb a tree's trunk like a vine. A versatile plant, it can be encountered along fences and stone walls, deep in woodland forests, field edges, roadside grasses and beside water sources.
    Step 2
    Consider the region. Poison ivy is abundant throughout North America and has even been discovered as far south as Bermuda. Generally, poison ivy does not grow in the far western United States, in desert climates or in high elevation areas.
    Step 3
    Observe the plant's leaves. Poison ivy has three separated, waxy leaflets on one small stem. They will appear dark green in color, and can be glossy or dull. Each leaflet can grow up to 4 inches in length, and may connect on a long stem that has three to nine leaflet groups (that grow in an alternating pattern on the stem). The leaf edges may be smooth or toothed.
    Step 4
    Look for flowers during winter and spring seasons. Poison ivy plants bloom with yellow, white and even green flowers that may appear in cluster groups.
    Step 5
    Recognize plant fruit. You may see green, white, yellow or grey-colored fruit as large as 6 mm in small clusters (colors depend on the growth stage). Observe carefully, as views of the fruit may be obstructed by poison ivy plant flowers.
    Step 6
    Observe bright red leaves in autumn. During the months of August through November, poison ivy will turn yellow to orange to striking red. Additionally, some leaf corners may transform to black or appear stained in color.
    Step 7
    Compare the plant with a credible plant identification guide. As poison ivy is commonly confused with other plants (such as fragrant sumac and Virginia creeper), verify identification through photographs and detailed plant information for your region (such as "A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants: North America North of Mexico").
    Step 8
    Avoid contact with poison ivy plant. Protect skin, footwear and clothing. Urushiol oils from the plant's leaves, roots and stems can irritate the skin and cause painful rashes, itchy blisters and allergic responses. Follow an effective, credible treatment plan and consult a doctor immediately if the reaction is serious.

    Tips & Warnings

    If contact with the plant has occurred, treat skin, clothing or shoes immediately and do not touch other areas of the body or other people.
    Never leave poison ivy reactions untreated.
    Never touch the plant until an absolute negative identification has been made.

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