Poison Ivy

Kurt Elieson

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Tenderfoot requirement #11: Identify local poisonous plants; tell how to treat for exposure to them.

How to Recognize Poison Ivy

Poison ivy grows its leaves in groups of three. Each leaf has a few sawtooths. The sawtooths on the center leaf are symmetrical so that both sides of the leaf match. The two outside leaves are not symmetrical, and they are less sawtoothy on the side toward the center leaf. But the two outside leaves are symmetrical to each other. Do not worry about the shape or number of sawtooths; some of these pictures show how that can vary a lot even if two plants are right next to each other. Do not worry about red veins or white berries, either; they are often missing. Just look for the pattern. You can see this pattern in the poison ivy pictures in the Boy Scout Handbook, but only if you know to look for it.

Where to Find Poison Ivy

Poison ivy thrives in hot moist shade. It loves to grow under pine trees and oak trees in East Texas, Lousiana and Arkansas, especially in river bottoms. That includes Dallas-Fort Worth. It does less well in the dry yucca-mesquite-prickly pear country west of Fort Worth.

Click on the pictures to see them up close.

How to Deal with Poison Ivy

Wash with dish soap or other degreaser.  Then make sure you wash off any remaining film with dish soap or other degreaser. Poison ivy leaves have an oil that will bind to the skin in about 10 minutes. It is a chemical called urushiol, not a growing biological agent. Good news: that means scratching next week after the oil is washed off will not make it spread. Bad news: that also means you can get it three times from the same object until you do clean it off. NEVER burn poison ivy. Allergic reactions in the lungs and windpipe are not funny.

CDC - NIOSH Treatment Pamphlet

CDC - NIOSH Information Page

Latin Name

The Latin name for poison ivy is "toxicodendron radicans." Pretty cool as multi-syllable Latin names go.

Page last updated 2011.11.07