Ladyguide: How to Identify Rash-Inducing Plants

You want to know what’s worse than finding ragweed in your yard?   Finding poison ivy in your yard.  One of my boys got a horrible case of poison ivy last year in our back yard and I realized that I had no idea what the plant actually looked like.  I’d heard lots of descriptions before – leaves of three, let it be, shiny leaves with a reddish tinge, that sort of thing – but I had no picture in my head to compare real plants to.  It made me nervous about doing yardwork.  Most of our yard is fairly average, but the back half of our back yard could politely be described as “untouched wilderness.”  We try to reclaim a little more of it every year, so our neighbors won’t attack us in a fit of lawn-rage.  As I was fretting about how to avoid future rashes, I had a crazy idea.  I suddenly remembered that we had this thing called “the Internet” in our house, and if I asked it politely it would tell me what rash causing plants looked like.  Eureka!

So, for those of you who have always wondered what exactly poisons ivy, oak and sumac look like, here’s what I learned:

Poison Oak

poison oak drawing
Poison Oak

Poison Oak
So pretty, yet so itchy
red poison oak
Poison Oak showing its fall colors

Poison Sumac

Botanical Drawing of Poison Sumac
Poison Sumac
poison sumac
Green in the summertime...
poison sumac red
Red in the fall

Poison Ivy

botanical drawing of Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy
poison ivy
A little poison ivy
poison ivy
A lot of poison ivy
poison ivy
The reddish tinge that isn't always there

Also Poison Ivy


By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

18 replies on “Ladyguide: How to Identify Rash-Inducing Plants”

Please please please remember that indirect contact is enough to cause a nasty rash! Anything carrying the plant’s oils can irritate your skin. Such as your dog who sleeps on the bed. The dog that you will curse for the next 40 days while the rash under your boob, on the back of your thighs, and covering your right arm subsides. The dog that your friends and family will refer to in quotation marks after you try to explain how you got poison oak all on sensitive body parts.

Also, a friend who has a terrible reaction to poison oak swears that if the swelling and itching has already started, eating raw cashews will neutralize the reaction. I’m talking 1-2 lbs, and they must be raw, not toasted and salted. His explaination is that cashews/ poison oak “are in the same family” and somehow cancel one another out. This sounds like garbage to me, but he swears that it works. I had also pointed out that eating 2lbs of raw cashews would surely cause some pretty violent intestinal problems, but his reaction to poison oak is so severe, that crazy diarrhea is the lesser of the two evils.

I’d like to give one big F’ You middle finger to Poison Oak. Working as an archaeologist doing CRM always exposes me to this stuff. It succccckkkkkkksssssss. I’ve had it from head to toe. I tell my employers now that I don’t care about the status of my job I refuse to walk through that stuff. One of my coworkers inhaled it when she had to monitor vegetation clearing and they cut through it.Also look out for bare poison oak branches. I got hit on the hand last month by a bare branch and had a rash on my hand for almost 3 weeks. My bf kept calling me herpe hand cause it looked nasty.

One of the Native American monitors I work with told me that if you eat poison oak (chew the leaves, swallow the juice and spit out the leaves) it will make you immune. I’m not about to try that one out.

We also have a plant here called bushrue. It looks all cute and gentle but can give you a rash similar to poison oak.

This is really helpful, thanks!

I’d like to point out the dangers of another plant, Giant Hogweed. The sap contains a chemical that sensitizes your skin to UV rays. After exposure to the sun, you can develop severe burns, blisters, and sores that leave a dark purple scar for years. It can cause blindness if it gets in your eye. Wild parsnip also causes a similar reaction. The plant looks like giant Queen Ann’s Lace. It needs to be broken or bruised to release the sap, so it’s not as easy as poison ivy to come in contact with. You would probably come in contact with it while doing yard-work, but pets can transfer it to their owners if they get it on their fur, and kids might be drawn to the plant’s huge flowers (I played with Queen Ann’s lace as a child, I can’t imagine what I would’ve done if I found one of these). It’s currently only found in a handful of northern states, but it’s spreading fast (it’s an invasive species).

This site provides more information, including a handy identification chart:

My favorite trick when I was the nature director at a youth camp was to teach kids to use their hands to identify poison ivy: the side leaves look like single hands with the thumbs out, and the middle leaf looks like two hands stacked with the thumbs out. The other tricks never really worked with them, but this one did, because it got the “three leaves” plus the shape of the leaves down, and it works for both shiny- and serrated-leaf poison ivy.

Obviously by “use their hands” I mean it in the way people use their hands to demonstrate Wisconsin, not in the “just touch it!” way, though some kids loved that method of identifying it as well. At least until their hands exploded in itchy rashes alongside any other part of their body that got the oil on it.

Which brings me to another point: it’s the oil that causes the reaction, so you have a window unless your allergy is really severe to wash it off. If there’s a hydrant at the head of your trail or you have a hose nearby, rinse exposed skin, and be careful when removing clothes that have come in contact.

And NEVER EVER burn poison ivy as a way to get rid of it. If it gets in your lungs it’s seriously bad news.

I figured that out as I read the comment, but when I first saw “use their hands” I thought you were a really mean camp director.

My brother-in-law breathed poison sumac smoke when he was a kid. They still tell stories about his wild ride to the hospital.

Poison ivy smoke killed a couple of kids who lived in my area when I was in high school. I didn’t know them but it really scared people because it’s a rural area and they burn off ditches to keep grass and weeds from spreading to the fields–people got really nervous that someone would burn off a patch of poison ivy by mistake.


my fiance had a friend who was outdoors and looked up at a tree above him, and this was after a recent rain. there was a dead poison ivy vine there and a drop of rain water fell from the vine into his eye.

his eye was completely swollen and awful weepy looking for like 3 weeks.

My son, who is 21 months, is recently into going around and ‘petting’ trees. We go hiking a lot, and he likes to play in the backyard at my Dad’s house. I’ve noticed tons and tons of poison ivy in both places this year. I never noticed it before. I suppose it has always been there, and I just never realized it, but now that I have a mobile, into everything toddler, it gives me the frights just thinking about it. I want to go to my Dad’s house and kill the shit out of all of that poison ivy.

I’ve never come into contact with that, sumac or poison oak that I’m aware of…rumor is that most of our family on my Dad’s side is ‘immune’ to it, and so is my husband, so I can only hope that my son will be, too. But I ain’t testin’ it. *shiver*

I knew a guy once that ate some poison oak on a dare and was hospitalized for months.

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