How to Identify Poison Ivy

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Poison ivy is one of the biggest foes of outdoor lovers. Being able to identify poison ivy can save you from a lot of itching!

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Poison Ivy growing near the ground

I was one of the 15% of people who aren’t allergic to poison ivy. Until suddenly, I was.

Yup. Most of my childhood, I was unaffected by poison ivy. I clearly recall rubbing on my skin as a child (yeah, dumb, I know) and not having a reaction. Then I moved 1500 miles away from Vermont to Arkansas, and suddenly it seemed that just looking at the plant could cause a nasty rash. It turns out that there are different varieties of poison ivy in different states!

Types of Poison Ivy

As I mentioned above, different states can have different types of poison ivy, but the main types are climbing and non-climbing.

Climbing poison ivy can grow up trees, fences and can even look like a bush or small tree.

Non-climbing poison ivy grows along the ground (but can still reach a foot or so high) as a single plant or a small bush-like plant.

Can you identify poison ivy?

How to Identify Poison Ivy

“Leaves of three, let them be.”

This old phrase is an excellent reminder of what to look out for when it comes to poison ivy. Poison ivy has clusters of three leaves, and if you see a plant with three leaves, you should proceed with caution. Just be aware that poison oak can have 3-5 leaves, and poison sumac can have 5-7 leaves, so the “leaves of three” rule isn’t a catch-all for the itch-causing plants.

Signs of poison ivy:

  • Three leaves
  • A larger center leaf with two smaller leaves on the side.
  • The leaves may be smooth on the edges or be saw-toothed.
  • The leaves are often shiny and can have a reddish tint to them. (But not always!)
  • Poison ivy can climb trees and grow outward, so don’t just watch the ground.
  • Poison ivy vines have a hairy appearance and can also cause a rash.

Leaves of three, let them be. How to identify poison ivy.

Where Does Poison Ivy Grow?

Poison ivy can grow in all 50 states. It is not typically found in the desert and some parts of California.

Poison ivy is a hardy plant, survives extreme temperatures and can be quite invasive. Poison ivy is not limited to growing in the woods and can make its way into your yard. Once it takes over, it can be difficult to eliminate.

Why does Poison Ivy Cause a Rash?

Despite its name, the actual poison ivy plant is not poisonous. The plants produce an oil called urushiol, which causes a rash in about 85% of the population.  The oil can be found on the leaves, stems, vines, and roots of the plant. Even when dead, the oils can be found on the plants for as many as five years!

Poison ivy can grow up a tree.

What to Do If You Come In Contact With Poison Ivy

Luckily, research shows that you have some time after exposure to the plant to take measures to prevent getting a rash. In fact, you could have up to eight hours. And what’s the magic treatment? Soap and water!

Vigorous scrubbing with soap and water appears to be the most effective method for removing urushiol from the skin. Using a washcloth also seems to have better results than just skin-to-skin scrubbing.

One of my favorite products for washing after I have been exposed to poison ivy is Technu Extreme. Although soap and water are effective, I love the microbeads in this product because I can feel tell if I have scrubbed an area already.

It is also important to remember that urushiol can also get on your clothing, garden tools, and even the fur of your pets and be transferred to your skin long after your initial exposure. If you have been exposed, it is best to wash your clothes and your garden tools before using them again. Technu Original is perfect for cleaning skin, tools, clothes, and even your pets.

Poison ivy vines have little hairs.

What to Do If You Develop a Rash

Poison ivy rash can range from mild (a few small blisters) to severe (large weeping and oozing rash). Mild rashes can usually be treated at home. Technu Extreme offers relief when rubbed on mild rashes, and Technu Medicated Spray can provide comfort between washes without the pink or orange tint of standard calamine.

If you have a large rash, one that develops open oozing sores, or one that just doesn’t seem to heal — you may need to seek medical attention. Your doctor can prescribe steroids and creams that can help clear up the rash.

Is Poison Ivy Contagious?

You can only catch poison ivy from contact with the urushiol oils. You cannot spread the rash to another person via contact unless you are transferring the oil. Your rash cannot cause someone else to get a rash.

That being said, urushiol oils can linger on surfaces for up to FIVE years, so you want to make sure that once you identify poison ivy, thoroughly clean anything that may have come into contact with the oils.

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Poison ivy is one of the biggest foes of outdoor lovers. Being able to identify poison ivy can save you from a lot of itching!


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