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The Many Faces of Poison Ivy

May 22, 2012

poison ivyIt took me forever as a kid to learn what poison ivy is.  I had a horrible run-in with it in high school when I spent a day clearing brush, only to figure out about 48 hours later that most of the vegetation had been poison ivy.

The problem with poison ivy identification is that it can look very different.  People told me look for shiny leaves, “thumbs” on the leaves, and a reddish tint… but the leaves can also be not shiny, smooth edged, and bright green or even yellowish tinted.  Here are the poison ivy photos I’ve taken over the past couple months in the Charlottesville area to illustrate the diversity in poison ivy.

So how do you identify it?

1) It has 3 leaves.  If you don’t know a plant and it has 3 leaves, stay away.  (This is not infalliable because animals can rip off a leaf occasionally, so if something looks like poison ivy but only has two leaves, check other plants around it to see if all the rest of its kind have 3 leaves.)

2) If it’s old and on a tree, the poison ivy vine will have hairy roots (which is pretty unique)

3) If you see a poison ivy plant, chances are there are more nearby since it is a vine–if you see a three leafed plant all by itself, it is less likely to be poison ivy than if you see a lot of plants clustered together.

4) Practice.  And lots of caution.

Reddish Poison Ivy

Reddish tinted, glossy leaves











Yellowish tinted, glossy leaves

Greenish Poison Ivy










Bright green, but not very glossy leaves

Smooth Edged, non-Glossy Poison Ivy











Smooth edged leaves (no thumbs)

Jagged Edged Poison Ivy










Jagged edged leaves with really pronounced thumbs

Narrow Leaf Poison Ivy











Narrow leaves

Wide Leaf Poison Ivy









Wide leaves

Poison Ivy on the Ground










On the ground

Poison Ivy on a Tree










On a tree






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