poison ivy young leaves

Young leaves on a poison ivy vine. Photo: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

Updated: September 18, 2023

Poison ivy has compound leaves; 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 of each other. 

poison ivy plants have three leaflets attached at a common point
Young poison ivy leaves

Along the main stem/vine, the sets of three leaflets are never directly opposite to each other; they have an alternate arrangement. The veins of each leaflet are generally alternate along the main vein. In the photo below, one can see an old hairy poison ivy vine as well as a younger vine without hairs.

poison ivy vin on tree
Photo: Ginny WIlliams

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

plants with five leaflets joined at a common point - Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Virginia creeper
Virginia creeper, usually 5 leaflets. Photo: Betty Marose
young Japanese honeysuckle
Young leaves of Japanese honeysuckle in late winter to early spring (invasive)
shiny poison ivy leaves
Poison ivy can be shiny (upper left and lower right corner)
yellow fall color of poison ivy
Poison ivy will turn yellow or red in the fall and can still cause a rash.
hairy poison ivy vine
Thick, hairy poison ivy vine growing up a tree. Photo: Ohio State Weed Lab, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

What is NOT poison ivy

This plant has three leaflets at the tip but an opposite branch structure. This is a common type of maple tree called boxelder.

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 alternately like poison ivy.

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

Indian strawberry
Indian strawberry

Brambles (blackberries, raspberries) have prickles on the stems, which poison ivy never has. The leaflet edges also have finer serrations than poison ivy.

Bramble leaves

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.

leaves of native jack in the pulpit

Clematis leaf veins are more curved than poison ivy and the leaves are opposite along the main stem.

leaves of clematis plant

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

leaves on a bean plant

Related information

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