3 ways to recognize poison ivy

3 ways to recognize poison ivy
3 ways to recognize poison ivy

Climbing sumac, poison ivy, poison ivy or "toxicodendron radicans" is a wild plant native to North America and Canada. Most people develop an allergic reaction to poison ivy, and whatever part of the plant it causes redness or blistering. Know how to identify poison ivy by recognizing its appearance and natural habitat. This will prevent yourself from painful itching.


Part 1 of 3: recognize poison ivy

Identify Poison Sumac Step 1

Step 1. Look for a rare shrub or tree

Sumac usually grows in trees of various sizes (between 1.5m and 6m). They can, however, develop even more. The branches may or may not be covered with sumac leaves along their entire length. In any case, the appearance of sumac is more like something airy and not closed like a leafy bush.

Sumac, like other species, can be long climbers, with thin branches that sag and slant downward

Identify Poison Sumac Step 2

Step 2. Watch for small plants with leaves pointing upwards

Before it grows on a shrub or tree, poison ivy can be relatively vertical, with small branches growing all the way up the trunk of the tree. In this case, its leaves and branches point noticeably upwards and particularly at the top of the tree.

Identify Poison Sumac Step 3

Step 3. Look for double rows of leaves on each stem

The leaves are entire, or crenellated, or irregularly skinned, meaning that each stem has two parallel rows of leaves growing along its length. There are between 6 to 12 leaves on each stem, plus one at the end of the stem. Young stems are usually red or dark red, but this color may fade to brown or gray with age.

Technically, the leaves are called "plugs", but they are ordinary leaves, 5-10cm long in size

Identify Poison Sumac Step 4

Step 4. Recognize the shape of a leaf of climbing sumac

The leaves of this plant have an oval or oblong shape, tapering to a corner or point on each end. The sides of the leaf may appear wavy or smooth, but they do not have the "sawtooth" look that other non-poison ivy may have.

Identify Poison Sumac Step 5

Step 5. Find out the other attributes of the sumac leaf

Its leaves are deciduous, they change color with the seasons. So, new shoots in spring can be bright orange, turn light green between late spring and summer, red in fall, and eventually drop completely in winter. The underside of the leaf is smooth or hairy at all times of the year, which is not the best way to identify a sumac leaf.

  • Warning.

    Fallen leaves are still poisonous if you touch them. Do not burn leaves or wood near poison ivy. Inhaling sumac can be dangerous and even fatal.

Identify Poison Sumac Step 6

Step 6. Know how to recognize sumac flowers

During spring and summer, sumac makes flowers. They are pale yellow or greenish. These small flowers grow in a cluster on their own along a green, separated from the red stem of the leaves.

Identify Poison Sumac Step 7

Step 7. Identify the fruits

During summer or fall, the plant will have replaced its flowers with fruits, small green or yellow berries. During fall and winter, they will mature and turn into white and gray berries and hang on stems about 30cm in length.

  • If the berries are red and the rest of the plant looks like described above, it is probably a non-poisonous plant, from the sumac family.
  • Berries can be ingested by animals or fall naturally during the winter. They won't always be there.
Identify Poison Sumac Step 8

Step 8. In winter, try to find white berries or empty stems

Sumac is still poisonous, even without leaves, but without the leaves it is more difficult to identify. If you're lucky, there may be a few white or gray berries left over that you can use as a token of appreciation. A few weeks after winter however, you are likely to find more thin, empty stems hanging down from the branches, looking the same as bunches of dark grapes.

Identify Poison Sumac Step 9

Step 9. Avoid the gray bark found in sumac areas

Recognizing the bark of climbing sumac is more difficult once the leaves and berries have fallen. Use the section below to learn about areas of habitat where sumac thrives, and stay away from any trees where you see gray, rough bark.

Part 2 of 3: Recognize poison ivy areas

Identify Poison Sumac Step 10

Step 1. Know the areas where sumac grows

Poison ivy grows in a small area of ​​the world. If you are not near the locations listed below, the odds of coming in contact with sumac are close to zero.

  • Ontario, Quebec and other provinces of Canada.
  • All states east of Minnesota, Wisconsin, including New England.
  • All states east of Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, including all of the South.
  • All states east of Texas on the southern border, including Florida.
Identify Poison Sumac Step 11

Step 2. Look for sumac where soils are flooded, very wet

Sumac thrives in unusually moist soil or in standing water. If the place you are in is dry all year round, you are unlikely to find any.

In dry weather, watch for river beds or dried mud which indicates the area is usually humid

Identify Poison Sumac Step 12

Step 3. Sumac does not grow at high altitudes

Beyond 1200 m above sea level, sumac does not grow. If you live above 1,500m above sea level, there is no risk that you will find sumac.

Other varieties of sumac also do not grow at elevations, reducing the need to be careful to avoid exposure to sumac

Part 3 of 3: Healing poison ivy exposure

Identify Poison Sumac Step 13

Step 1. Use a towel soaked in alcohol and rub the area where you were hit

If you recognize sumac and have been exposed, massage the area with an alcohol-soaked towel as quickly as possible. The toxin in sumac, urushiol, will not completely dissolve in alcohol. Also, it may be necessary to rub the affected area with a towel dipped in alcohol to remove as much poison as possible.

  • Please note: alcohol can make you more aware of future exposures. By rubbing with alcohol, you have removed the protective oil from your skin. Avoid areas where poisonous plants grow within 24 hours of applying alcohol as much as possible.
  • Wear disposable gloves, if your hands have not been exposed, to rub the affected area with alcohol.
Identify Poison Sumac Step 14

Step 2. Wash the exposed area with water

Whether or not you have rubbed alcohol on the exposed area, rub it under water as well. You can also use soap, detergent, a cortisone-based cream or an antihistamine. Cleanse the area regularly to prevent dry skin.

Identify Poison Sumac Step 15

Step 3. Treat irritation with antihistamine or lotions

If you develop redness or blisters, you can take antihistamines to relieve the itching. You can also use calamine, cortisone cream, or an oatmeal bath, which also relieves the itching.

  • If you have a blister that gets bigger and oozing, see a doctor for more treatment.
  • The oozing from the blisters does not contain a toxin, so the irritation will not spread.
Identify Poison Sumac Step 16

Step 4. In severe cases, see a doctor

If you think you have inhaled sumac smoke, seek medical advice immediately, even if you have no symptoms. The other serious situations which require a medical consultation concern in particular a redness on the face or on the genitals or any redness whose size does not reduce in the week following the exposure.

Identify Poison Sumac Step 17

Step 5. Wash any tools or clothing exposed to sumac

If you leave sumac oil on tools or clothing, it can spread for months or even years after initial exposure. Use disposable gloves and wash tools with soap and water, scrub with alcohol or diluted bleach. Store your clothes in a bag during transport and wash them with hot water and soap.


  • The best way to avoid irritation through contact with climbing sumac is to wear long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes when you are outdoors.
  • Urushiol is the allergenic agent of climbing sumac and its congeners, although it is more concentrated on poison. Some people develop the allergy after the second or third exposure. Also, don't think you're immune if you don't develop an allergy the first time around.

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