While you venture out this summer, you may be worried about poisonous plants.

Here are some tips to help keep you and your family safe outdoors.

Why does it make you itch?

Rashes from poisonous plants are caused by an oily resin called urushiol. This oil is in the leaves, stems and roots of poison ivy, oak, and sumac and causes an allergic reaction in most people.

Severity of the allergic reaction varies from person to person, but should always be treated and monitored. These oils can also be transferred from clothing and other items to your skin and cause a reaction. Even the smoke from burning these plants carries urushiol and can irritate or harm nasal passages and lungs. This makes it important to remember to never intentionally burn poisonous plants.

What you’re looking for

The first step to preventing a painful reaction is avoiding poisonous plants all together. To do that, you need to identify hazardous plans correctly.

Poison ivy leaves are composed of three separate leaflets attached together, the middle leaflet being longer than the sides. Make sure to keep an eye out for the “hairy vine” part of the plant, as it can also transfer urushiol to your skin.

Poison oak looks very similar to poison ivy, but leaflets appear more lobed, like oak leaves. Leaflets also have small hairs on both sides.

It can be hard to tell the difference between the two plants, but remember, “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Poison sumac grows as a small tree or shrub in wet areas. Each red stem has 9 to 13 tapered and pointed leaves directly opposite of each other with one at the very tip.


Here’s what you should do if you think you may have touched a poisonous plant.

• Do not touch any other part of your body or anyone else.

• Wash your hands with cold water and dish soap.

• Do not scratch the rash. Use calamine lotion or other anti-itch creams to manage the itch. Cold compresses can also help.

• Seek medical attention if the rash is severe, persists for a week or more, causes a fever, and/or appears to be infected. Prescription medications are sometimes needed to treat reactions.  

Remember the same oils can be transferred from clothing and gear to your skin again. Wash all items you think may have come into contact with a poisonous plant to prevent spreading the rash further.