According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 85 percent of Americans are allergic to urushiol, the oil in the poison ivy, oak, and sumac that causes the relentless rash. Angie’s List asked experts on how to identify these poisonous plants and how to safely remove them.
Poison ivy grows in all areas of the continental U.S. Poison oak is most common on the West Coast, but it’s also found in Southeastern states and poison sumac grows in swampy areas of the Southeast.
What do the plants look like? (See pictures and graphics from Angie's List to help you identify poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak.)
- Poison ivy: Has compound leaves with three leaflets that connect to a single stem. Young poison ivy leaves are light green and have serrated or toothed edges. Can grow as a vine or a shrub.
- Poison sumac: Has nine to 13 leaflets per stem. The leaves are round with pointed tips. Grows as a shrub or small tree.
- Poison oak: Has three leaflets that connect to a single stem. Its leaves resemble oak tree leaves. Grows as a vine or a shrub.
Where could it be in my yard?
Birds often feed on the berries of these plants and consequently spread the seeds, so look for the plants in areas where birds hang out – on or under trees or near fences.
How can the plants be removed?
- Hire a pro: These plants can grow to great lengths, so you may need help to get rid of them. Angie’s List found some lawn care companies won’t go near the plants, but there are other companies who specialize solely in this type of removal. Ask questions before hiring such as: 1.) Will you use chemicals or dig out the plant? 2.) How long do you guarantee your work? 3.) What happens if the plant returns?
- DIY: You may be able to tackle smaller plants on your own, but be sure to wear protective clothing, clean garden tools, and know how to properly dispose the plants. Urushiol may remain active on clothing, garden tools and camping gear for up to 5 years, so it’s important to wash all items that come in contact with poison ivy. You should never burn the plants or use a weed eater or lawn mower to get rid of them – you’ll just distribute the oil.