“Leaves of three, let it be.” Many mothers tell their children this maxim and it works, at least in the case of poison ivy and poison oak. Poison sumac actually has clusters of 7 to 13 leaves. To help you recognize and avoid an allergic reaction, WebMD provides this field guide to poison plants. In case you do end up with an itching rash, you’ll also find tips for poison ivy treatment.
How to Spot Poison Ivy
Poison ivy has three pointed leaves that change colors with the seasons: reddish in the spring; green in the summer; and yellow, orange, or red in the fall. The leaves on some plants have notched edges while on other plants, the edges are smooth. Poison ivy can grow as either a vine or a bush. You may see the vines climbing up the sides of trees.
Poison ivy plants sometimes have white berries, which help the plant spread. Birds eat the berries and transplant the seeds on new areas along with their droppings. Perhaps this helps explain why poison ivy is so pervasive: it can be found in each state in the U.S., except for Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the West Coast.
How to Spot Poison Oak
Poison oak has three leaves shaped in lobes that resemble the leaves of an oak tree. Poison oak grows in low shrubs in the eastern U.S. On the Pacific Coast, it grows in long vines.
How to Spot Poison Sumac
Poison sumac defies the poison plant stereotype: its leaves grow in groups of 7 to 13 along the length of its stems. The plant itself takes the shape of either a shrub or a tree. It has clusters of small, yellowish flowers that mature into clusters of glossy yellow or off-white berries.
Poison sumac is most common in the Midwest, though it makes appearances up and down the East coast. Its favorite habitats are bogs, swamps, and the shores of the Mississippi river.
Give Poison Plants Space
The best approach for any allergic reaction is to avoid the source that triggers it. Now that you know what to look for, these steps can help you steer clear of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
- Avoid areas where you know poisonous plants grow.
- Cover up with closed shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeves, and gloves. Wash any clothes that come in contact with poisonous plants as soon as possible.
- If you do get exposed, wash your skin with soap and water, or rubbing alcohol. Though the timeframe varies by person, you have about 10 minutes to wash a poisonous plant’s oil off your skin before the stage is set for a rash.
- Scrub under your nails. You can spread poison ivy to other parts of your body by having the oil on your fingers.
- If you suspect your pet has rolled around in a poisonous plant, give him a bath with pet shampoo and water -- before giving him a cuddle. Wear rubber gloves while you give your pet a bath.
- Oil from poison ivy and other poisonous plants can get on golf clubs, balls, bats, and any other objects, and can remain potent for as long as five years. Make it a habit to wash sports equipment, gardening tools, and other outdoor items with soap and water.