Identify and Get Rid of Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

Updated: May 28, 2024

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac can cause major irritation. Learn how to identify these bothersome plants — and how to remove them from your yard.

With warmer weather comes more time spent outside — and an increased risk of running into poison ivy, oak, or sumac. All three of these plants cause skin rashes, so it’s important to know what to look for. But which of these bothersome plants is which? What is the best way to remove them from your yard? Here, we outline the differences between these poisonous plants and explain how to get rid of them for good.

Poison Oak Identification

Poison Oak Plant Leaves Close Up For Plant Identification High Quality, poison ivy oak sumacDARREN415/Getty Images

Poison oak is a deciduous native shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet tall in dry, sunny locations or as a vine in more shaded locations. Different species occur in all continental states, but they all feature leaves with multiple lobed leaflets with broad tips. Green summer foliage turns yellow and red in fall. Panicles of yellow-green flowers produce berrylike fruits.

The only methods to eradicate poison oak are to dig up and remove the roots and/or to spray herbicides.

Learn about more irritating and poisonous plants you should avoid.

Poison Ivy Identification

Poison Ivy (rhus Radicans) With Flowers, poison ivy oak sumacED RESCHKE/GETTY IMAGES

Poison ivy is a deciduous native vine found in the Lower 48. The plant will climb trees and take over properties, but it can also form a shrub shape. Poison ivy prefers moist soil and thrives in sun or shade. Its compound leaves have three broad leaflets with pointed tips. Green summer foliage turns red, orange and yellow in the fall. Small white summer flowers produce berrylike fruits.

To eradicate poison ivy, dig and remove the roots and/or spray herbicides. Wash thoroughly after exposure.

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Poison Sumac Identification

Dreamstime S 198854415 (1)GERALD D. TANG/DREAMSTIME.COM

Poison sumac is a native woody shrub that grows 5 to 20 feet tall in moist wooded areas in eastern and southeastern states. Each leaf stem has seven to 13 leaflets with pointed tips that grow in pairs with a terminal leaflet. Spring foliage is orange, turning green in the summer against red stems, then changing to red and orange in the fall. Poison sumac blooms panicles of green-yellow flowers followed by drooping clusters of similarly colored berries.

Use an herbicide to eradicate poison sumac.

Psst—these are the worst invasive plants you should never grow.

Reduce Risk of Poison Oak, Ivy, Sumac Exposure

Poison Ivy. Rhus Radicans Volatile Oils Cause Severe Skin Inflammation, Itching, BlisteringEd Reschke/Getty Images
Poison ivy exposure may cause severe skin inflammation, itching and blistering.

Note that you’ll need to wear protective clothing in any wooded areas or in the vicinity of poison ivy, oak and sumac, since they can cause a rash. Even in winter, they can cause rashes—despite not having foliage! In addition, do not burn these plants. Doing so may cause severe respiratory problems.

Next, check out home remedies for bug bites that actually work.