What Do Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac Look Like?
When in the great outdoors, it helps to know what poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac look like. They each have a distinctive appearance and grow all over the United States. Find out what they look like here.
The popular saying “Leaves of three, let them be!” is a helpful reminder for knowing what poison ivy looks like so you can avoid it. Poison ivy is the most common among the poison plants. Each leaf of poison ivy has three leaflets and the itch-causing plant grows as a shrub and a vine. The leaves are shiny green, and they can turn orange or red in the fall. Sometimes poison ivy may have yellow or green flowers and white to green-yellow or amber berries. Eastern poison ivy grows as a hairy, ropelike vine, while western poison ivy usually grows as a low shrub that does not form a climbing vine. Poison ivy is common throughout most of the United States except Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the West Coast.1,2
Poison oak has three leaflets like poison ivy, but with rounded tips. It may have yellow or green flowers and green-yellow or white berries. Poison oak usually grows as a shrub. It’s most common in the western U.S., although poison oak is also found in eastern states.1,2
Poison sumac is a tall shrub or small tree with drooping clusters of green, pale yellow, or cream-colored berries. It has clusters of 7–13 leaves arranged in pairs. Poison sumac grows in wet, swampy regions in southeastern states and is also found in wet, wooded areas in the northern U.S. 1,2
Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Rashes and Symptoms
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac rashes vary from person to person. Symptoms can include:
- Intense itching
The first symptom of contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac is usually intense itching. After the itching starts, a rash develops. The amount of time it takes to appear depends on whether you have had a rash before from poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
- If you have had a rash before from poison ivy, oak, or sumac, the rash tends to develop within a few hours.
- If you have never had a rash before from poison ivy, oak, or sumac, it can take days or even a week or more after exposure for a rash to appear.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Identifying Poisonous Plants. June 1, 2018. Accessed from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/plants/identification.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Poisonous Plants: Geographic Distribution. June 1, 2018. Accessed from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/plants/geographic.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac: What Does the Rash Look Like? Accessed from: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/poison-ivy/what-rash-looks-like
- Mayo Clinic. Poison Ivy Rash. October 17, 2020. Accessed from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/poison-ivy/symptoms-causes/syc-20376485
- American Family Physician. Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Contact Dermatitis. June 1, 2000. Accessed from: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0601/p3408.html