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Allergies Health Center

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Recognize and Treat Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and More

"Leaves of three, let it be." Many parents give their children that advice and it works, in the case of poison ivy and poison oak -- but not for poison sumac. Learn to recognize and avoid poisonous plants, and find out what to do 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
  • Yellow, orange, or red in the fall

On some plants, the leaves have notched edges. On others, the leaves have smooth edges.

Poison ivy can grow as a bush or vine. You may see the vines climbing up the sides of trees or buildings.

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. This may help explain why poison ivy is so common: 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 has leaves that grow in groups of 7 to 13 along 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's also found up and down the East Coast. It favors bogs, swamps, and the shores of the Mississippi River.

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