Ivy, Oak, and Sumac: Your Guide to Common Poisonous Plants

Common poisonous plants and how to identify them.

Common Poisonous Plants: Identification, Treatment, and Safety Tips

It’s more than just a Boy or Girl Scout badge. Knowing how to identify common poisonous plants can potentially save your life.

The last thing you want to do is have your camping trip ruined by poison ivy. Sometimes we don’t know how we’ll react to something until it’s too late, and that’s not a risk we want to take with our family.

3 of the most common poisonous plants you’re likely to see on your hike or during your camping trip are poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.

Get to know everything you need to know about them to keep you and your family safe while having a great time in the outdoors. Here’s what you need to know.

Poison Ivy plant. How to identify poison ivy plants.

Types of Poisonous Plants

There are tons of poisonous plants in the world. Some are more obvious than others.

While out enjoying a nice hike or an adventure in the forest, you could easily run into one of these plants without noticing. That’s why it’s important to understand what types of poisonous plants are lurking in your area.

In the United States, the three most common poisonous plants are poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac all contain the same type of poison. The poison is caused by an oil called urushiol, which causes a rash when it touches your skin.

Did you know that poison ivy plants are still poisonous, even when the plant has been broken or dead for some time? It’s extremely important to make sure you avoid all contact with the plants, no matter what, and to know how to properly identify them.


How to Identify Plants That Are Poisonous

Poison ivy, sumac, and oak are all plants that have poisonous leaves, and this is the best way to identify them.

Remember the saying, “leaves of three, let it be” you were taught as a kid? We’re going to break that down for you right now.

Poison ivy and oak normally both have 3 leaves in each stem. However, sometimes they can have more, which makes it tricky to distinguish them sometimes.

Not surprisingly, poison oak leaves look like oak leaves, while poison ivy leaves are more rounded and spoon-like.


Poison Ivy leaves. The best way to treat poison ivy and identify leaves.

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy’s leaves grow with one leaf at the end of the stem and one pointing out on each side, and the tips of the leaves are pointed. These leaves can be smooth or rugged on the surface.

Sometimes the plant can also contain white or green berries.

Poison ivy is red in the spring, green in the summer, and yellow or orange in the fall.


Poison oak plant. How to identify poison oak symptoms and leaves.

Poison Oak

The leaves on a poison oak plant are wavy, with round tips and curved edges.

Poison oak leaves also change with the seasons, and they are green in the spring, yellow or pink in the summer, and in the fall they are dark yellow or brown.

Both poison ivy and oak can grow anywhere in the United States, particularly in the western and northern states, but they have been seen in the east as well.


Poison sumac plant. What does sumac look like and how do I treat it?

Poison Sumac

On the other hand, poison sumac can have anywhere from 7 to 13 leaves on a stem. The leaves grow in pairs, one across from the other, leading up to an individual one on the end of the stem.

Unlike oak and ivy, poison sumac leaves are long and skinny, forming a narrow oval shape. They usually range from 2 to 4 inches long.

Sumac is found in swampier, more wet areas like Florida and Louisiana. In the spring, sumac leaves are orange, then they turn to dark green in the summer, and eventually they change to red or orange in the fall.

All 3 plants grow as a shrub or as a vine, but sumac can also take the form of a tree.


Ivy, Sumac, and Poison Oak Symptoms

The most obvious symptom is a rash. You can also suffer from blisters, inflamed surface areas, and itchiness.

Rashes from poisonous plants can occur any time between 12 and 72 hours after contact with urushiol. This rash usually isn’t contagious and generally clears up in a few weeks at the longest.

However, while most people will experience just an itchy rash from the oil, it can sometimes lead to a reaction with severe side effects.

If your rash doesn’t go away within a few weeks, talk to your doctor.

In some cases, you might find that you have trouble swallowing, breathing, or opening your eyes. If that happens, you need to go to the emergency room immediately.

Rash from poison ivy. Learn some poison ivy remedies that work. 

So What’s Good For Poison Ivy Itch?

The best way to treat poison ivy, oak, and sumac right away is to wash the exposed area with a mild detergent soap as soon as possible. If you don’t have that, rubbing alcohol will also work.

You have a timeline of about 10 minutes before the urushiol seeps into your skin, so treating the area as soon as you make contact can help prevent the spread. Since it is an oil, you do have the chance of getting it off if you catch it in time.

It’s important not to scratch! This can seem impossible, but the more you scratch your rash, the worse it’ll get. Don’t touch your blisters, either, if you have them.

Keep some calamine or hydrocortisone lotion in your first aid kit. This will help to soothe the rash. You can also put a cool washcloth on the irritated area.

Lastly, make sure you wash all of your clothes that came into contact with the plant. The oils can stay on clothing well after you’ve treated your rash.


Hiking in the woods. Knowing the plants that are poisonous can help on your hiking trips.

Book Your Next Campsite With the Click of a Button

Poisonous plants shouldn’t stop you from having an amazing family camping trip. With this information, you’ll be able to keep everyone safe and navigate through the woods with no problem.

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This entry was posted in Camping, Outdoors.