How to Identify Poison Ivy

October 5, 2015

If you’re able to recognize only one plant, it better be poison ivy. Memorize these helpful hints to identify it in any season. 

  • “Leaves of three, leave them be.” Poison ivy leaves always occur in clusters of three.
  • “Longer middle stem, don’t touch them.” The middle leaflet of the trio will have a longer stem that extends noticeably farther than the other two leaflets.
  • “Hairy vine, no friend of mine.” Unlike other climbing vines, poison ivy features distinctive small tendrils, or “hairs”—a key indicator when the plant’s leaves are not present.

If you do come into contact with the plant, clean any impacted skin immediately. Poison ivy–induced rashes are caused by urushiol oil, which is present in all parts of the plant, and reactions can appear anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours after exposure. For best results, scrub the area vigorously with soap and hot water or use a specialized product, such as Tecnu or Zanfel.

This story originally appeared in the September/October issue of AMC Outdoors, alongside the column “What You Need in a First-Aid Kit.”

Photo by Steven Russell Smith Photos/Shutterstock

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.