Poisonous Plants to Watch Out For While Camping

Be On the Look Out For These Poisonous Plants While Camping

While hiking and camping can be great fun for the entire family and more, there are a few things to keep an eye out for. 

There are certain things that are obvious dangers like snakes, wild animals like wolves, bears, spiders but we often don’t notice dangers like poisonous plants that could be all around our campsite. 

The problem is that they don’t look especially dangerous in any way so it is sometimes hard to be able to identify them on sight.

When hiking or camping, there are three main types of poisonous plant to look out for – Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac. 

They are all from the same plant family and are often the bane of explorers who might encounter them.


Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac

The official name for this tricky little devil of a plant is Toxicodendron radicans, but it is more commonly referred to as Eastern Poison Ivy or PoisonIvy. This poisonous Asian and Eastern North American plant flowers in the genus Toxicodendron. 

Now that all the official terms are out of the way, what does it look like? The leaves are almond shape and they usually range in different colors from light green when they are young to dark green when they are mature. 

If you are hiking or camping during the fall, these poisonous plants turn red, orange or yellow. 

Leaflets are usually around 3 to 12 centimeters long but can be up to 30 cm long. These plants’ leaves usually grow in three’s and can be identified by that as a poisonous plant.

How to Know When You Have Come Into Contact With Any of These Plants

When you have come into contact with Poison Ivy, Poison Oak or Poison Sumac there will be specific signs and symptoms that show the stages of the rash development.

Toxicodendron radicans contain an oil called urushiol that can irritate the skin due to an allergic reaction, resulting in a rash. 

This oil can get into and onto anything, it comes into contact with so if it brushes against your pants without you noticing while you are on your hike, you may end up getting it on everything else in your tent and in your sleeping bag. 

Though it is a mild irritation in small doses until it is spread or inflamed, it may last up to several hours and can spread from your fingernails to other parts of your skin if you scratch it.


The general symptoms to look out for are:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Blisters that may be painful
  • Should you accidentally burn Poison Ivy, you may have trouble breathing and a tightness in your chest for a few hours after. This may happen when burning both the stems or leaves.

The best thing one can do when you have come into contact with Poison Ivy is to consult your dermatologist who will prescribe you a steroid cream to apply to any rashes caused by any of these three plants.

How to Properly Identify Each Plant

Due to the fact that these plants cause roughly the same reaction and can be treated in the same way, people often expect them to look exactly the same. This may cause some campers to overlook the smaller details and come into contact with one of these poison plants.

  • Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy leaves will always grow in groups of three leaves on one stem along the entire branch. The leaves are a light green in colour with a red stem that they grow out of. 

Poison Ivy trees are often easy to overlook as it generally grows in between other plants or in grassy patches of the woods, making it just another unassuming pile of leaves. 

The leaves themselves are quite broad and can easily end up looking similar to normal creeping Ivy, with more rounded edges.

  • Poison Oak

Poison Oak might be even harder to identify as the entire plant looks fairly normal with dark green leaves that are slightly darker and broader than Poison Ivy leaves. 

This poison plant also grows in groups of three and can be found mostly lower to the ground, as opposed to higher up between other trees’ leaves. Similar to Poison Ivy, Poison Oak also has fairly rounded edges with certain points staying jagged, more so than Poison Ivy. 

The stem is also a very normal green colour, making it pretty hard to identify at first glance if you aren’t actively looking for it.

  • Poison Sumac

The leaves from a Poison Sumac plant are substantially narrower in shape than that of Poison Ivy or Poison Oak. 

These leaves, unlike the other two, tend to grow individually, in rows all the way up it’s stem instead of in groups of three like the others. 

This poison plant can also fool you as the seasons change as it tends to change colour from green and yellow in the spring and summer to completely red in autumn and winter. 

It is difficult to say exactly where Poison Sumac grows as it can be found in areas that are densely populated with grassy bushes or in heavily wooded areas like forests or near remote mountain areas.

Where Do These Plants Grow?

Unfortunately, if you are a local American, it can be very difficult to dodge the areas in which Poison Ivy grows as it grows throughout most of the United States and North America with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii and California. 

As Poison Ivy grows in most parts of North America, you may encounter it in more places than just your camping spots – it can grow in vines and shrubberies around your garden as well if you live anywhere in the USA.


Poison Oak is slightly less popular than Poison Ivy and will generally grow more on the Eastern and Western sides of the United States, making it slightly easier to dodge when picking a place to go on a hike or a camping trip. 

In these areas you can find Atlantic Poison Oak and Pacific Poison Oak, spreading them out to either sides of the country. Don’t let the various names and areas of the plant fool you as it is exactly the same plant that grows on both sides of the country. 

Poison Sumac is the easiest of the three to avoid when camping as it only grows in wet, swampy areas of the country which won’t be conducive to camping or hiking, anyway. 

Another upside to this is that, unless you live in a swampy or wet part of the country, you won’t come across this plant in your yard or general area. 

It is mostly found in the Eastern United States and will grow in a wooded shrub about 20ft high, which means that should you decide to go camping in a wet or swampy area – it will be easy to identify among the other plants growing around it.

In general, these plants are difficult to avoid when spending time outdoors so rather than to try to find a different place to go hiking or camping – it may be best to simply educate yourself on their ins and outs before setting off on your journey. 

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This entry was posted in Camping.