University of Maryland Extension

Identifying Poison Ivy

Back to Poison ivy

Confirming you ARE looking at poison ivy (also look closely for the hairy vine)

mature poison ivy vine growing up treePoison ivy leaves are compound leaves, that is, each leaf is composed of three leaflets.  In each set of leaflets, the middle leaflet has a longer stem than the two side leaflets. 

The stem on the side leaflets can be so small as to be almost invisible.  The stems of the two side leaflets are always directly opposite each other.  The sets of three leaflets are never directly opposite each other on the vine.  The veins of each leaflet are generally alternate along the main vein.  In this photo, one can see an old hairy poison ivy vine as well as a younger vine without hairs.


young poison ivy
Poison ivy
young Virginia creeper
Virginia creeper (usually five leaflets)
young Japanese honeysuckle
Japanese honeysuckle (invasive)
(in late winter-early spring)
Poison ivy growing on ground
Poison ivy can be shiny (upper left and
lower right corner)

In early spring, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and Japanese honeysuckle (invasive) can be easily confused. Both poison ivy and Virgina creeper can be shiny when young.

poison ivy fall color
Poison ivy will turn yellow or red in the fall and can still cause a rash.

mature poison ivy with hairy roots growing up a tree
Thick, hairy poison ivy vine growing up a tree
Photo: Ohio State Weed Lab,The Ohio State University,


What is NOT poison ivy

boxelder tree seedlings
Above are boxelder seedlings which can look very much like poison ivy with compound leaves with three leaflets.  However, notice the leaflets are arranged on the stem opposite from each other, not alternatively like poison ivy.

Indian strawberry foliage
Indian strawberry (above) has serrated leaflet edges.  The edges of poison ivy can be somewhat jagged but are not serrated.

wild brambles
Brambles have prickles on the stems, which poison ivy never has.  The leaflet edges also have finer serrations than poison ivy.

Jack in the pulpit
The stem of the center leaf of Jack-in-the-pulpit is almost non-existent, whereas the center leaflet of poison ivy has a definite stem.  

Clematis vine
Clematis veins are more curved than poison ivy and the leaves are opposite.

Bean upper surfaces tend to be very slightly fuzzy.  Poison ivy upper surface is never fuzzy and has a slightly waxy appearance.  Note difference in venation in bean and poison ivy. 
Beans have fewer veins from the main central vein.  


Can you identify poison ivy? Take the Poison ivy quiz.

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