Solved! What Does Poison Ivy Look Like?
Poison ivy and the rash it causes can be irritating and painful. It’s important to know what poison ivy looks like so you can avoid contact.
Q: I’m not sure if the plants growing in my yard are poison ivy or something else. What does poison ivy look like, and how can I safely identify it?
A: Even a simple brush with poison ivy can cause an itchy rash that blisters over time and scratching will only worsen symptoms. Unfortunately, avoiding poison ivy completely is difficult; it grows in various places across North America, including forests, near bodies of water, parks, and in residential yards.
Both eastern and western poison ivy grows on the ground. Eastern poison ivy can grow upward on trees, shrubs, walls, and fences. Homeowners with yards should learn to identify the plant to avoid exposure and get rid of it altogether.
There are various ways to identify poison ivy. Successful identification depends on the time of year, the color, and the look of the plant. Here’s what to know about what poison ivy looks like.
Poison ivy always has three leaves: one in the center and one on each side.
Many of us have likely heard the phrase, “leaves of three, let it be,” about poisonous plants. However, many plants grow in leaves of three, so understanding the actual structure of the poison ivy plant will help with more accurate identification.
At the base of every poison ivy leaf is a small stem that leads towards the main vine, which houses the poison. When identifying poison ivy, the longer leaf stem usually belongs to the leaf in the middle. Additionally, the leaves are generally twice as long than they are wide and are between 2 to 6 inches long. The edges of the leaves can either be smooth or frayed with teeth or lobes, while the sides of the leaf can vary in symmetry.
The leaves have a combination of red and green colors during the early spring.
In the spring, poison ivy is attempting to regrow its leaves after losing them in the winter. Spring leaves are usually dark red or green mixed red. As they’re not fully developed, these new leaves may be more rounded at their tips than mature leaves.
Young poison ivy may also grow flower buds at their base, which are also poisonous. These flower buds are white or have a greenish-yellow hue, and they grow in small clusters. They usually emerge after the first leaves have formed.
The older leaves are green, while the new ones have a reddish color.
As mentioned above, the red leaves indicate a newly developed poison ivy plant, while the older, more mature plants tend to be green throughout. Their green hue is usually fully developed around summertime; however, new growth will continue into summer, always starting with dark red leaves in the beginning stage of development.
The flower buds of poison ivy will have turned off-white at this point. The leaves may entirely hide them, or you may be able to see them growing up the stems. In the late summer, these blooms turn into green berries. “The berries almost always grow in a grape-like cluster attached to the stem,” according to Ali Malik, the Poison Ivy Specialist.
Poison ivy will essentially take over the area it’s growing in and dominate or weave into the spaces around other plants, making it challenging to ensure you’re walking in a safe location. Poison ivy can also grow up entire walls and trees if not removed. The shapes and sizes of the leaves will vary at this point in their growth cycle.
The leaves become yellow, orange, and even red during the fall.
Poison ivy leaves will change colors at the start of fall and may look just like regular leaves, so it’s crucial to identify them by shape. The poison ivy plant’s leaf shape and size will generally look the same as it did in the summer, just with different colors–fall poison ivy leaves may appear yellow, orange, or even red. At this time, the buds on the flowers may be entirely white, and any berries at the plant roots will turn from green to white.
The leaves are entirely red during the winter.
In winter, poison ivy leaves will turn completely red and then wither in size and fall off. However, the plant can still grow through its exposed roots, which are usually brown and fuzzy. It’s important not to touch these roots, as they can cause a rash. The white berries will most likely be more visible at this point after all the leaves are off the roots. The roots can grow up buildings and around trees, so proceed with caution when touching or leaning against a tree.
A poison ivy rash looks like red streaks across the affected area, accompanied by itchy blisters.
After a run-in with poison ivy, it will take a bit of time for the rash to actually develop. Because of this delay, it may seem as though the rash is spreading when it is still just developing. One can get a poison ivy rash from touching the actual plant or touching anything that has come in contact with the plant itself because the oils linger on surfaces.
A poison ivy rash will first have an intense itch to it that can wake you up in the middle of the night. You’ll feel the itch first and then see the rash as red streaks. Blisters can appear soon afterward, and they may burst and leak. Scratching exacerbates this process.
For two to three weeks, a crust will form over the blisters’ surface and then clear up. However, for individuals who have never had a poison ivy rash before, the rash may not clear up for over 21 days. Over-the-counter medications and home remedies can be helpful to combat the itch.
By learning what poison ivy looks like, homeowners can identify it and avoid contact and take steps to remove it from their property safely.