Poison Ivy: Characteristics, Toxicity, and More

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poison ivy

Poison ivy or Toxicondenddrom radicans is a noxious weed that is often found growing in your home’s landscape, along roadsides, in forests, and even in urban areas.

Moreover, it is important to note that this plant is poisonous and its toxicity depends on an active irritant: Urushiol.

Urushiol is an oily resin that is present in all parts of this plant.

When this chemical comes in contact with any part of your skin or internal organs, it can cause a rash.

However, pets are less likely to have any issues with poison ivy, but it can still affect them.

The rash that comes with poison ivy is classified as a type of contact dermatitis and is an inflammation of the skin.

Keep on reading to learn more about it in detail.

Gardening Considerations

It is important to note that poison ivy can be invasive where it is non-invasive, however, it is aggressive even where it is native.

poison ivy 2

Moreover, this plant can spread quickly, so if you find it growing anywhere on your proper, take proper precautions to remove it.

Botanical Name Toxicodendron radicans
Common Name Poison ivy
Native Area The Eastern United States and Southern Canada
Plant Type Deciduous, woody plant; can take the form of a shrub, climbing vine, or creeping vine
Mature Size Woody shrubs are one to two feet tall and wide. Mature vines can climb 50 feet or more up a tree and develop a 6-inch diameter
Bloom Time Late spring
Flower Color Off-white
USDA Hardiness Zone 4 through 10

Identifying Poison Ivy

The leaf of poison ivy is famously composed of three leaflets, however, it is important to learn about other ways to identify it as well.

It is important so that you do not accidentally touch it after it drops it leaves in the winter season.

Moreover, it tends to change its appearance over time.

Other than its distinctive foliage, poison ivy has:

  • Small, off-white flowers in the spring.
  • White berries in the late summer also persist through winter.
  • Hairy wines on older plants

How Poison Ivy changes over a Year?

One of the most obvious ways in which you can identify poison ivy is through the changes in its appearance from one season to another.

Moreover, these changes are more apparent in its foliage.

Spring: In the summer season, its foliage appears in a number of shades of red or orange.

Summer: During summers, its foliage appears to be green in color.

Fall: During fall, its foliage appears to be red, orange, or yellow and is quite stunning in some cases.

It is also true of Toxicodendron vernix also known as Poison Sumac.

foliage color

Winters: In winter, there is no color of the foliage as the leaves often drop off the plant by this time.

While the leaves of poison ivy are the most toxic part of the plant, contact with any part can cause an allergic reaction.

This is why you should learn about what it looks like throughout the season and beyond.

Keep on reading.

Leaves of Young Poison Ivy Plants

Young poison ivy plants often start out in the spring season with orange or reddish leaves.

However, make sure to be aware of the leaves as in some cases, they have notches in them.

But this is not in all cases, so this feature is in and of itself not sufficient to identify the weed.

The plant at this stage is just barely off the ground, but the oil or urushiol can still rub off on your fabric of shoes and socks.

Moreover, it is possible to transfer the oil from the clothes to the skin, thus, be very careful while removing the garment if you think you came in contact with it.

Mature Poison Ivy

During the summer seans, the poison ivy matures.

In most cases, the leaves turn green and are about 2 feet tall.

Any new leaves that appear, though will be reddish in the spring.

However, the red color will not be intense as in the spring season.

Poison ivy vines often grow in mass, thus, taking over an area and can also become a dominant plant.

Flowers, Flower Buds, and Berries

You might associate something as poisonous as poison ivy with its flowers, and yes! This weed does bloom.

The blossoms are most very attractive, however, the flower buds that form often appear in the form of clusters look like tiny specks of green when you look at the plant.

On the other hand, poison ivy produces small, unremarkable blossoms that are off-white in color with orangey centers.


Unopened buds that are close to opening are off-white in color and you will also see a plant with open and closed buds at the same time.

Moreover, while walking past a patch of poison ivy you would hardly notice the individual blossoms.

It is important to note that poison ivy also grows berries which are also toxic.

An identifying trait is the color of its mature berries.

When they are ripe, they turn from a pale green to a whitish color.

While on the other hand, poison sumac has a white berry.

Fall Foliage of Poison Ivy

During fall, the green summer color of the foliage of poison ivy turns to red, yellow, or orange.

The autumn color of this plant is due to the anthocyanin pigment characteristics of the plant family to which poison ivy belongs to.

Moreover, you might also notice the same shades of poison oak and poison sumac in the fall.

This plant tends to come “full circle” and if they come out of the ground in spring with red leaves, they will display reddish fall foliage.

It might also remind you of red maple trees. The red buds in the springs hold a hint of what their fall foliage will look like.

Aerial Roots

If you see the hairy vines that you can also see climbing up the trees or bristling along the tops of logs resting then it is what looks like in winter.

It often looks like this when the old leaves fall off and before new leaves can take place in the spring.

Moreover, the ‘hairs” are vines aerial rootlets.

These rootlets also cling to the surfaces, allowing the vines to climb and this is why trees, tree stumps, and stone walls are often seen covered in them.

When poison ivy climbs a tree for a long time, the vine can embed into the bark of the tress that largely disappears from sight, with only the rootlets visible.

Learn more about Climbing Plants here.

Toxicity of Poison Ivy

Urushiol is a chemical present in poison ivy that causes the reaction and it can manifest itself in a rash along with blisters.

However, this reaction is an allergic reaction which is why you may develop a skin irritation than others.

If you are not allergic to urushiol it will not affect you.

In some cases, you can also experience the toxicity of poison ivy as a very serious rash that needs treatment from a doctor.

While some people may experience it as an irritating rash that you can soothe with over-the-counter balms or home remedies like jewelweed.

This can be found growing in your backyard just like poison ivy.

It is important to note that all parts of poison ivy are poisonous, not just the leaves.

Moreover, it is toxic at all times of the year, even in winters.

poison ivy 1

Thus, it is one of the features that you can identify by more than just the appearance of its leaves.

Otherwise, you might not know whether the leafless plant is poison ivy or not.

Making contact with dead poison ivy plants or when it rubs off the onto walls, fences, may cause symptoms as the oily resins stay viable for five years.

Not only touching this weed can cause problems, but also ingesting the plant or touching an animal can cause symptoms to develop.

Eating any part of this plant can cause a rash to develop in your digestive tract.

Therefore, you should not ingest this plat and you should take care while your children are present around.

In case your animal ingests it, they may experience gastrointestinal upset.

However, dogs and cats are less likely to be affected by poison ivy.

Make sure to take care while if your dogs or cats brush against poison ivy, they may transfer urushiol onto your hand and you can develop a rash.

Removing Poison Ivy

You should make sure to remove poison ivy from your property so that you do not accidentally make contact with it while gardening.

Moreover, it is also possible to remove them, whether organically or with the help of herbicides. However, you should take extreme precautions and it might take several attempts.

removing them

When working around poison ivy, it is also important to wear gloves.

Wash the gloves and your clothes separately afterward for your laundry so that any residue you come in contact with is not transmitted to your food, your face, your pets, other people, or any other surfaces.

Final Thoughts

The presence of poison ivy in your backyard is no joke. You might not one of those few lucky ones who are not allergic to its chemical, urushiol.

The reaction that comes after coming in contact with these perennial vines can range from simple skin irritation to life-threatening allergic responses. Thus, make sure to eradicate it as soon as possible from your backyard.

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