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Identification at various stages

Commonly Mistaken Weeds

control and prevention in the garden

What makes it do what it does

Prevention and Control of /irritation rash

Picture of Poison Ivy
Click this picture for a Larger,
more detailed version!

As a career gardener, I know what it looks like, and I believe that most folks have one image of poison ivy in their mind from an early summer nature hike taken in the 7th grade . I took this picture (to the right) because it shows all of the identifying elements of poison ivy anatomy. (Click on the picture for a HUGE file size version that you can zoom in on.) The largest of these three leaf clusters is what most folks imagine when they hear the name: Three even leaves - each almost the size of your hand or palm - growing on medium length petioles with an alomst glossy red shine to the upper surface. Hairy growth from the shaft of the vine is also a commonly recognized trait. In this picture you can see that older "hairs" (lower on the vine) darken with age, and the newer, more active "hairs" are usually pink. Notice that each set of three leaves grows on its own stem from the main vine. Notice also that each leaf stem alternates ... one grows to "the right", the next one to "the left".

Picture of poison IvyMost people have the overall shape of the Poison Ivy leaf locked into their memory. To the right you can see some of the finer details that distinguish Poison Ivy from other plants. (Click the picture for a higher resolution picture.) You will notice first that petiole of the center leaf extends the leaf out from between the side leaves. Also notice that the leaves ARE slightly lobed. The side leaves show this mainly along their "outer" edge, and the center leaf shows it evenly on either edge, about 2/3 of the way to the tip. I have heard people say that they know poison Ivy when they see some red in the twig or petiole...but I have to say that for the first half of the year (through June or July) you won't notice much red. Picture of poison IvyI typically only see the hint of pink or red at the junction at which the leaves grow from the stem (look closely at any of these pictures). In the picture to the right you see a seedling Poison Ivy vine (thanks to J. Delaney for letting me "grow" this one to this point for an example on this site!). Boy...it doesn't look at all like the text book example, does it? Rub its leaves across your arm if you don't think this is poison ivy, and about four days later please send me a picture - I could use an example picture of the rash! (Back to TOP)


What makes poison ivy so irritating is a chemical called urushiol. It is most highly concentrated in the leaves, but it is also found in the other parts of the plant.The urushiol is in the sap, so if you don't get the sap on your skin, you won't have any reaction.If you do come into contact with it, the A-number-1 thing to do is RINSE thoroughly, gently, and generously with copious ammounts of cool or cold water. Hot water will only open the pores of your skin and increase the urushiol pentration deeper into your skin...and using soap right off the bat will most likely only spread the oil around - not to mention that applying soap will encourage you to rub harder than you need to. Just rinse. Don't irritate your skin! If you have to work around poison ivy - or even directly WITH it,as when pulling it out of shrubs by hand - your focus needs to be NOT CRUSHING OR BRUISING THE LEAVES AND STEMS!Wear gloves which you will throw away when you are done, and it is also a good idea to wear long sleeves, too. Find a light weight cotton long-sleeve "Henly" style shirt at your local thrift store, and match those sleeves by wearing long pants, too!

It is important also to remember that this Irritant Oil (URUSHIOL) is very persistent. Do not wash "Poison Ivy" clothes with the rest of your laundry!

Need I say more...?

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Plants most commonly mistaken for poison ivy are Virginia Creeper, Hickory Tree Seedlings, Fox Grape, and even Wisteria Runners. Stay tuned for a photo gallery of PI Imposters!
Mother Nature's Antidote!
Anti-Poison Ivy; Jewel WeedJewel Weed (pictured to the right) - also called Summer Snaps - is a wild Impatiens whose sap has the elements which bond with urushiol and occupy its checmical reactivity so that it does not irritate your skin. The rash caused by poison ivy is a "fake out" reaction. Urushiol is not at all harmful except that your skin sees the urushiol molecules as foreign bodies, and the immune response is what causes the itching. The biggest danger with a poison ivy rash is scratching it open and contraction a nasty bacterial infection from dirt in an open wound. Over the counter products can only adress the symptoms through topical anesthesis. Impatiens, when applied within the first few minutes - actually disables the irritant! Just break open some stems - or grab a bunch and mash them - smearing the semi-sticky juice liberally over any questionable area! Click Here to see a movie clip that can help you identify Jewel Weed "in the field".

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