End Your Poison Ivy, Oak, & Sumac Woes

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End Your Poison Ivy, Oak, & Sumac Woes
Shannon King, Charity Director

The rash of a poisonous plant such as poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac can be a real nightmare at any time of the year.  I hope that you find the following information useful in preventing such nightmares for you and your family.

IDENTIFICATION Leaves of three, let it be

Poison Oak – Each leaf contains three small leaflets and grows as a shrub / low woody plant or a vine. It may have yellow-white berries.

Poison Sumac – Each leaf has a row of paired leaflets that with one leaf at the end and grows as a tall shrub or small tree.  The leaflets may have spots that look like blotches of black paint.  The spots are the urushiol and will give you the rash.  The oil will turn brownish- black when exposed to the air.  Before the chemical hits the air it will turn a clear or pale yellow.  The plant may have yellow-white berries.  Poison Sumac likes to grow in swampy areas or peat bogs.

Poison Ivy – Each leaf contains three small leaflets and grows as a shrub / low woody plant or a vine.  In spring, it grows yellow-green flowers and may have green berries that turn white in the early fall.

Can you identify poison ivy vs a nonpoisonous plant? Test your identification skills with this fun and informative interaction – http://www.poison-ivy.org/poison-ivy-quiz


  1. Don’t allow it space to grow in the first place. If you are preparing your yard for gardening or landscaping don’t leave the ground bare for too long.
  2. Target the seedlings. While wearing protective clothing (long sleeves, long pants & gloves) pull out the entire plant by the roots.  In early spring when the plants are small they will come out very easily.  Be sure to get the roots or it will regrow.
  3. Starve it out. Plants can have very long underground root systems.  If you think you got it all and it keeps re-sprouting just keep pulling it out when it pops back up.  The plant will eventually die off.
  4. Smother it. Cover an overgrown area with thick, black plastic and leave it there for a year or longer.  Make sure it isn’t the kind that will breakdown in the sun and burry the edges so no light gets underneath.
  5. Chew it up. Got goats or other chewing animals?  Grazing animals, especially goats, are not bothered by urushiol and can eat through an overgrown area.  They won’t get to the roots but will weaken the overall plant by destroying what is above ground.
  6. Avoid burning the plants.  Urishiol will become airborne when burned.  Particles can land on your skin or get inhaled.


When doing yard, conservation work, or hiking in affected areas dress accordingly.  Wear long sleeves, long pants, long socks, enclosed shoes or hiking boots, and gloves if you may end up handling the plant.  When hiking or playing stay near the middle of the trail and stay out of the weeds.

Infection occurs when the skin comes into contact with the thick oils.  Clothing, shoes, gloves, and gardening tools will all become contaminated when they come into contact with ANY parts of the plant.  Urishiol will stick to almost anything.  You can become infected by touching the oils on these objects months after its original contamination.  Be sure to properly clean and store your tools.

If you think that you may have come into contact with the plant be sure to get cleaned up within two to eight hours of contact.  The sooner the better.  When doing yard or conservation work have a wash station nearby.  Use soap and a wash cloth.  The oils are thick like engine grease.  Soap up and let it sit for at least two minutes.  It is important to was it away with friction.  It can be very difficult to remove.  Be sure to get spots you might miss like the back of the arms and in-between your fingers.


You can be infected through direct or indirect contact with the plant oils.  Your skin will immediately begin to absorb the oils but rash symptoms will take longer to show.

  • Itchy skin
  • Redness or red streaks
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Outbreak of small or large blisters often forming streaks or lines
  • Crusty skin after a burst blister

The rash is very itchy and can appear anywhere on the body and can spread when you spread the oils around by touching other parts of your body.  You can’t spread the rash to another person unless they touch the oils.  You cannot get the rash by touching someone else’s rash or the blister fluid.  The chemical is contained in the plant oils only.


Please visit http://www.healthline.com/health/outdoor-health/poison-ivy-remedies#1 for more information on treatment.


If you experience any of the following please seek emergency medical attention immediately.

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Wide spread rash all over the body
  • Swelling of the eyes especially if they swell shut
  • Rash develops on the face or genitals
  • Much of your skin is itchy and nothing helps

There is a lot of available information about poison ivy, oak, and sumac online.  Please take the time to be aware of the poisonous plants that grow in your area and learn to identify and treat their rashes.  Have fun enjoying nature and as always, stay safe!

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