Poison Ivy vs. Poison Oak: What's the Difference?

November 30, 2015
Poison Ivy & Oak Identification

About 50 percent of the general population has a sensitivity to poison ivy and poison oak. After contacting either plant, these people break out with itchy, painful rashes that can spread to other parts of the body. Although they are both different types of plants, poison ivy and poison oak basically affect the skin in the same ways. That said, it's important to understand the differences, so you can effectively identify and avoid each type.
What Causes the Rash?
Poison ivy and poison oak both contain a resin called urushiol. When you contact the plants' stems, leaves or roots, urushiol can be transferred to your skin or clothing. While some people have no reaction to the resin, others break out in itchy rashes.
Poison Ivy
There are multiple variations of poison ivy. For instance, Western poison ivy looks like a shrub and grows virtually everywhere in the United States, except for California and a few southeastern states. On the other hand, Eastern poison ivy contains rope-like vines and can be found all throughout the east coast, the Midwest and some western and southern states.
Most people have heard the saying "Leaves of three, let it be." In reality, however, numerous harmless plants also fit this description. To better identify poison ivy, look for three glossy leaflets with jagged edges that come to a point.
Poison Oak
Unlike poison ivy, poison oak is quite good at camouflaging itself to effectively blend with surrounding plants. Likewise, the plant can grow as either a low shrub or a vine that match the colors of other foliage. Not as widespread as poison ivy, poison oak is typically found in the southeastern states and West Coast. To identify the plant, look for fuzzy leaflets with tooth-like edges. Sometimes, the plant will also yield clusters of white or green-yellow berries.
Eliminating Both Plants
Unfortunately, it can be quiet difficult to eliminate unwanted poison oak and poison ivy. Unless you can eradicate the roots, the plants will usually re-sprout. For best results, hire a professional to eliminate poison oak or poison ivy on your property. If you do choose to attempt removal yourself, be sure to wear plenty of protective clothing and gloves. Also, never burn either plant, since the smoke can cause allergic reactions in the lungs.

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