How to Identify Poison Ivy and Get Rid of the Plant Permanently

The dangers of touching or eating a poisonous plant range from mild burns to death.

The dangerous plant most likely to come into contact in the US is poison ivy – or its cousin in the genus toxicodendron, poison oak and poison sumac. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they will not cause serious illness, but the oil in their juice can trigger an allergic skin reaction.

toxicodendron The National Library of Medicine website MedlinePlus states that the plants are found in every state in the continental US and are “strong and difficult to get rid of.” They thrive in sunny and warm areas and do not survive well in deserts or rainforests, above 5,000 feet.

Below, botanists and toxicologists explain how to detect poison ivy, what to do if you touch it, and how to treat a rash.

What does poison ivy look like? how to identify it

poison ivy, or toxicodendron radicans, According to botanist Susan Pell, deputy executive director of the U.S. Botanic Gardens, is a climbing vine and less commonly a free-standing shrub.

Kelly Johnson-Arbor, co-medical director of the National Capital Poison Center, told newsweek: “Poison ivy can be difficult to recognize because it is easily confused with other common plants.”

A flourishing poison ivy plant. There is a possibility of an itchy rash coming in contact with the oil of its juice.
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If you’re not sure if the plant in front of you is poison ivy, look for these characteristics:

  • Three-leafed leaves – not five, like the leaves of some similar-looking Virginia creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia) Poison ivy vines have solid green, pointed glossy leaves that are arranged in clusters of three.
  • Leaves alternate on the stem, not opposite each other, as in box elder (acer negundo,
  • Unlike blackberry and raspberry plants, poison ivy is not prickly.
  • Damaged parts of the plant usually have dark spots or black sap.
  • The leaves turn yellow, orange and red in the fall.
  • Flowers and fruits are cream colored. Poison ivy vines can produce yellow or green flowers and white berries in different climates.

Poison oak is a shrub with three leaves. According to MedlinePlus, it is mostly found on the West Coast.

Poison sumac is a bushy shrub found in abundance along the Mississippi River. Each stem has seven to 13 leaves arranged in pairs.

Yellow Colored Poison Ivy Leaves.
Yellow colored poison ivy leaves. The leaves of the plant may turn yellow, orange or red in the fall.
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How to get rid of poison ivy permanently

“It’s best to avoid poison ivy as much as possible,” Johnson-Arbor said. To eradicate it from your garden, you will probably need a chemical herbicide.

“People may choose to hire a professional to manually remove poison ivy plants from their property, but this must be done carefully to avoid physical contact with the plant,” he said.

Manual removal of plants can be successful, explains Pell newsweek, But it usually takes many years and a lot of consistent work. “A quicker solution is to apply an effective herbicide directly to poison ivy.”

For very large stems, cut across the entire stem to separate the higher climbing parts from the roots. Then poke a few holes in the stems and fill them with herbicide to kill the roots, she advised.

The CDC cautions against burning poison ivy, as the fumes can irritate the lungs.

A Person Sprays The Substance On Poison Ivy.
Man spraying poison ivy vines as seen through a fence. You will probably need to use a chemical herbicide to eradicate the plant and you should be careful not to touch the leaves, so remember to wear gloves.
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What does a poison ivy rash look like?

Poison ivy rash usually develops within a day or two of exposure and is characterized by “severe itching, redness, and streaks that can develop into painful blisters,” Johnson-Arbor said.

The severity of the rash varies depending on the individual and the level of exposure. Pell said you may notice small red bumps, red, swollen skin or even large blisters filled with clear fluid.

Poison Ivy Rash Seen On Human Skin.
Close up view of poison ivy rash. Some people develop small red bumps while others have large blisters.
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How does poison ivy spread? How long is it contagious?

Direct contact with urushiol results in the rash, which is an oily liquid produced by poison ivy and other members of the plant family—also known as the cashew family. There are about 800 known species in the family, including mango, pistachio, poison oak and poison sumac, Pell said.

According to Johnson-Arbor, about three-quarters of the population is “sensitive to the toxic effects of poison ivy”, and urushiol is present in almost every part of the plant.

Pell explains that people can also be exposed to urushiol in these ways:

  • It can last for years on tools, clothing and other items. However, it is easily washed off making these items safe to touch again.
  • Many come into contact with urushiol through their pets, who usually do not develop a rash but can carry urushiol on their fur.
  • The smoke from burning poison ivy can cause severe allergic reactions.

Johnson-Arbor said: “The rash associated with poison ivy is not contagious. However, it is important to rinse the skin with water as soon as possible after exposure to poison ivy, as the urushiol left on the skin is easily transferred to another body. May cause parts or other people and additional rashes and blisters.”

Once an animal, appliance or item of clothing has been washed, “you can no longer get a poison ivy rash from coming into contact with them. This is true of contact with people and other affected animals, regardless of their rash.” No matter how bad,” Pell added.

The CDC recommends that you rinse any exposed skin with water and either rubbing alcohol, poison plant wash or a degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap) or detergent. You should also scrub under your nails with a brush. “Rinse often so that the wash solution doesn’t dry on the skin and further spread the urushiol,” it added.

A Poison Ivy Warning Sign In The Woods.
Be careful while walking in the jungles. Poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak can be found in every state in the continental US
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How To Treat Poison Ivy Rash And How Long Does It Last

Johnson-Arbor said the rash can last for days or weeks. Pell said the duration “varies a lot” but typically ranges from one to three weeks.

To treat the rash, Johnson-Arbor recommends:

  • Applying wet compresses or soaking the affected areas in cool water.
  • Applying over-the-counter corticosteroid medication to the skin intact (not to the areas with blisters).
  • Taking an oral antihistamine (such as diphenhydramine) to help with itching. According to the CDC, oatmeal baths can also relieve itching.
  • In severe cases, patients may require oral corticosteroids (such as prednisone).

While mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antihistamine medications, anyone with a severe rash or other health condition should consult with their doctor, Pell said.

The Person Applying The Cream To The Elbow.
A man is applying a drop of cream to his elbow. Minor rashes caused by exposure to poison ivy can be treated with various over-the-counter creams or pills.
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