If you’re like many people, when the temperature increases, you can’t wait to get outside and enjoy and explore nature. While you’re enjoying scenic views and the smell of the blooming earth, stay mindful of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Here are the facts you need to know about these poisonous plants commonly found in nature, so you can stay safe this summer.

Recognizing Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, & Poison Sumac

Learning what poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac look like is the best way to protect yourself from an itchy rash. These poisonous plants are similar in appearance, so knowing the specifics about each of these plants is the best way to know how to treat your symptoms, including the rash if you make contact. You can also download an app on your phone to help you identify plants.

Recognizing Poison Ivy

“Leaves of three, it’s best to let them be,” is a safety rule you can use to aid in identifying and avoiding poison ivy. Poison ivy consists of a stem with large leaves at the end, and the large leaves have two smaller leaves alongside them. Poison ivy leaves can appear notched or smooth along the edges with pointy tips. This poisonous plant changes its appearance with the seasons. During the spring, poison ivy features a reddish tint, while the summer brings out a vibrant, green hue. During the fall, poison ivy becomes festive with an orange and yellow appearance. During the spring and summer, you may notice green and yellow flowers, as well as greenish-white berries on this plant.

Recognizing Poison Oak

Poison oak is similar in appearance to poison ivy. This plant can feature five or seven leaves per cluster, and the leaves are lobed and wavy, sometimes referred to as scalloped. Instead of pointed ends like poison ivy, poison oak leaves are round at the end. During the spring, poison oak leaves are bright green. In the summer, these leaves are greenish-yellow or pink. During the fall, poison oak leaves turn yellowish, dark brown.

Recognizing Poison Sumac

Poison sumac features red stems that have seven to 13 leaves that grow in pairs. These leaves have a smooth edge, are elongated and have an oval shape. This poisonous plant has leaves that range between two and four inches long and feature a variety of colors. In the spring, poison sumac leaves are vivid orange and dark green in the summer. During the fall, these leaves are reddish-orange.

How to Prevent Rashes from Poison Ivy, Oak, & Sumac

How to Identify a Poison Ivy Rash

Rashes from these plants are often not fatal, but they are considered poisonous due to their potency. A slight brush against any of these three plants can leave you with an agonizing rash that can last at least one week. Urushiol has a thick, greasy consistency that allows it to easily attach itself to your clothing and belongings — even your pets! Knowing how to prevent these rashes will save you from weeks of an itchy fit.

Avoid the Plants

Use the above-stated recognition characteristics to help you identify these poisonous plants during each season. When you are engaging in outdoor activities, stay on clear, defined paths. Set up your tent in areas that are clear of these plants. Bring a camping first aid kit or a survival kit for camping, or make your own camping emergency kit.

If you are enjoying outdoor activities with pets, keep them away from wooded areas and areas that are densely populated with different plants. If your pet makes contact with any of these poisonous plants, urushiol, the oily sap found on poison ivy, sumac, and oak can transfer to your skin when you pet them. Touching this sap results in an allergic reaction that causes a variety of symptoms.

Wear Protective Clothing

Prevent urushiol from making contact with your skin by bringing protective clothing when camping such as:

  • Boots
  • Socks
  • Pants
  • Vinyl gloves
  • Long sleeves

Use Barrier Creams

Barrier creams are thick-paste creams that protect your skin by putting a coating on your skin and are available over-the-counter.

Remove or Kill Plants

You can only remove or kill plants that are on your private property. Avoid burning these plants to prevent the plant toxins from transmitting into the air by the smoke. You can use herbicides or pull them from the ground. If you choose to pick the plants from the ground, make sure the plant roots are included. Wear heavy gloves and wash your hands.

Wash Skin Within 30 Minutes of Contact

If you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, sumac or oak, you need to wash your skin within 30 minutes of making contact with any of these poisonous plants. Avoid touching surfaces in your home, clothing, pets, phones, and other items where urushiol can stick. Use soapy, lukewarm water to clean the oily soap from your skin gently. Make sure you scrub your fingernails to help prevent spreading the rash. Additionally, you will need to clean the surfaces and items you’ve come into contact with to avoid spreading urushiol throughout your home. If you’ve pet your dog, cat, or another type of pet before washing your hands, bathe them to ensure they don’t have an allergic reaction or spread it throughout your home.

Symptoms of Poisonous Plant Rashes

The symptoms of poison ivy, sumac, and oak are the same and can range in severity depending on how your body reacts to direct contact with urushiol. The most severe symptom of coming into contact with these plants is difficulty breathing. If you have difficulty breathing, seek professional medical care immediately.

Common symptoms of poisonous plants include:

  • Itchy red rashes
  • Blisters that ooze clear fluid
  • Bumps and blisters

Rashes from these toxic plants often appear in a straight line due to the way they brush against your skin. The rash can spread if these plants come into contact with your clothing and can appear and develop in as little as 12 hours after being exposed to urushiol. Rashes from these poisonous plants can last as long as three weeks and can range from mild to severe. The severity of the outbreak depends on how much urushiol is on your skin.

How to Treat Poison Oak, Ivy, & Sumac

How to Treat Poison Oak, Ivy, & Sumac

The good news is there are various treatments available, and you can take different steps to treat poison oak, ivy, and sumac. If you’ve made contact with one or more of these plants, don’t panic.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends taking these steps:

Immediately rinse your skin

Using lukewarm water, rinse your skin with soapy water. Use a generous amount of soap to ensure you remove all the urushiol.

Wash your clothing

Wash your clothing on the heavy-duty cycle in hot water. Use the largest load setting for your washing machine. You need the extra water to remove the oil from your clothing thoroughly.

Avoid scratching

Scratching the rash can create open cuts on your skin, which can lead to an infection.

Don’t bother blisters

Don’t bother blisters and avoid peeling overlying skin. Overlying skin helps protect the wounds underneath the skin from becoming infected.

Reduce the Intensity of Itching

You can reduce the severity of the itching and burning by:

  • Using Calamine lotion
  • Using a cold compress
  • Adding oatmeal to the bath
  • Taking medication (Diphenhydramine)

Home Remedies for Poison Ivy, Oak, & Sumac

If you’re not fond of taking over-the-counter medication, there are different home remedies you can try that use many ingredients you already have in your home.

Make a Paste

Using baking soda and cold coffee, make a thick paste to cover the rash. Mix half a cup of baking soda in a medium-size bowl. Slowly pour cold coffee into the baking soda and mix it until you create a thick paste.

Additionally, you can make a paste using turmeric root powder and lemon or lime juice. Mix one tablespoon of turmeric root powder with equal parts of lemon or lime juice. Turmeric root powder is a great anti-inflammatory and has a variety of anti-bacterial properties.

When Should You Seek Medical Care?

You can experience a mild to a severe reaction to urushiol. You can treat mild symptoms with home remedies or over-the-counter medications. Severe reactions can cause fatal complications.

You should seek medical care if/when:

  • Your allergic reaction becomes more severe and widespread
  • Your skin starts swelling
  • The rash affects your mouth or eyes
  • The blisters are oozing pus
  • You maintain a fever that exceeds 100°F
  • The rash doesn’t show signs of improvement in at least three weeks
  • You experience trouble breathing or difficulty swallowing

Risk Factors of Poison Ivy, Oak, & Sumac

There are a variety of risk factors associated with poison ivy, okay, and sumac, including:

  • Landscaping
  • Gardening
  • Forestry
  • Firefighting
  • Farming
  • Camping
  • Construction

Poison Ivy, Oak, & Sumac FAQs

There are many questions regarding these poisonous plants. Here are specific facts about poison ivy, sumac, and oak to help you better understand the effects they have on the body.

Q: How Do Poison Oak, Ivy, and Sumac Cause Different Symptoms?

A: These plants cause a variety of symptoms, including an itchy, red rash. Swelling may also occur due to the way your body may respond to urushiol. Urushiol oil alone is not potent, but when it comes into contact with your skin, your body responds by trying to get rid of it, which results in an allergic reaction, which causes itching, swelling, and redness.

Q: Is Everyone Allergic to Urushiol?

A: No. Everyone is not allergic to urushiol, but most people are. About 85 percent of the population has an allergic reaction to this oil.

Q: Why Is My Body Experiencing Breakouts at Different Times?

A: To cause an allergic reaction, urushiol must penetrate the skin. For example, the heels of your feet have thicker skin than other parts of the body. The thicker your skin is, the less sensitive it is to urushiol.

Q: How Can Recontamination Be Prevented?

How to Avoid Being Recontaminated by Poison Ivy

A: Urushiol is a pervasive sap, meaning it spreads easily, which makes recontamination effortless. This oily sap can stick to you and many of your belongings, including clothing, pets, tools, bedding, and similar items. Coming into contact with any of these items when they have urushiol on them is a sure way to recontaminate yourself and everything and everyone you touch unless you wash your hands with lukewarm, soapy water. Additionally, your clothes should be washed in hot water with extra detergent.

Q: Where Do These Poisonous Plants Grow?

A: The characteristics of poison ivy, oak, and sumac are determined by the regions in which they grow. The weather conditions in most states and territories are ideal for the growth of these plants, except certain southwest desert regions, Hawaii, and Alaska.

Poison Ivy Myths vs. Facts

When it comes to poison sumac, oak, and ivy, there are tons of myths and a few facts discussed. Here are the facts you need to know about these plants, their characteristics, and the specifics about their symptoms and infections.

Myth: You can spread a rash caused by poison ivy, oak, or sumac by scratching the blisters.

Fact: The fluid in the blisters does not spread the rash; unbound urushiol spreads the rash. Scratching the blisters can lead to an infection.

Myth: Urushiol causes a contagious rash.

Fact: Urushiol can easily spread from person to items, such as clothing and surfaces. Once this sap binds to the skin, the rash is no longer in its contagious phase and cannot spread from person to person.

Myth: If you get poison ivy once, you can’t get it again.

Fact: Everyone reacts to urushiol differently. The first and subsequent exposure may have varying results. In many situations, people who are exposed to poison ivy, oak, and sumac multiple times are likely to have more severe reactions that last longer than the first reaction.

Myth: If you’re allergic to the poisonous plants, you’ll always be allergic to them.

Fact: Your sensitivity to urushiol can change over time and from season to season. For example, if you were allergic to these plants during your childhood, you may not be allergic to them as an adult.

Myth: Poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants that have died are no longer poisonous.

Fact: Dead poison ivy oak and sumac plants still have active urushiol. This oily sap can remain active in these plants for up to 5 years.


Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are all wonders of nature but should be admired from afar. Like snakebites, poison ivy is one of the most common concerns while camping. By keeping all of this information in mind, you can stay safe and have a great time on your next camping trip. Get outside and enjoy nature safely!

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