The Coast to Coast Hikers Guide to Poison Ivy (& Oak & Sumac)!

Posted on 05/10/2022 at 10:00 AM by Tom Swegle

image of a poison ivy plant - poison ivy in the united states

When hiking this summer, know what to watch for in your state! With the lovely weather upon us, it’s time to hit the hiking trails. Knowing what to look out for is a vital part of hiking safety. What states should you watch for poison ivy, oak and sumac in? The answer: all of them! Learn what states have poison ivy, oak, and sumac and what the different plants look like.

Poison Ivy in the U.S.

map of poison ivy in the U.S.

Source: The CDC

What does poison ivy look like? Poison ivy is found everywhere in the United States, except for Alaska, Hawaii, and California. There are two types of poison ivy plants, Western poison ivy and Eastern poison ivy. 

image of poison ivy in the U.S.                                                   image of poison ivy in the U.S.

             Western Poison Ivy Plant                                   Eastern Poison Ivy Plant

Similarities

Both of these species can result in a nasty, itchy poison ivy rash. There are also a number of similarities between the two types of poison ivy plants

  • Both types have similar three-leaf clusters and slender stems
  • Both types of poison ivy leaves can vary in color and shape
  • Colors can vary with the seasons, and edges can be either smooth or jagged
  • All poison ivy plants grow berries and tiny flowers, both of which are usually a dull white color

Differences

The two key differences between the Western poison ivy and Eastern poison ivy are location and growth pattern

  • Western poison ivy (the left map) grows primarily in the Western U.S., while Eastern poison ivy (the right map)  grows primarily in the Eastern U.S.
  • Western poison ivy only grows as a ground-level vine, while Eastern poison ivy can grow as either a ground-level vine or a climbing vine

Poison Oak in the U.S.

map of poison oak in the U.S.

Source: The CDC

What does poison oak look like? Poison oak is found across a large portion of the United States. Poison oak is extremely common in California. There are two types of poison oak plants, Pacific poison oak and Atlantic poison oak.

image of poison oak in the U.S.                                     image of poison oak in the U.S.

               Pacific Poison Oak Plant                                 Atlantic Poison Oak Plant

Similarities

Both of these species, similar to poison ivy, contain urushiol, which is what causes an irritating poison oak rash. Similarities in appearance include:

  • An upright shrub that can grow up to 3 feet tall
  • The leaves of both types of poison oak resemble oak leaves (hence the name)

Differences

Pacific poison oak is usually taller than Atlantic and can appear both shrub-like as well as more vine-like. The primary differences lie in where the plants grow

  • Pacific poison oak (the map on the left) grows in the Western U.S. in a wide range of habitats ranging from grasslands to forests
  • Atlantic poison oak (the map on the right) grows in Southeastern U.S. and is usually found in open woodlands and sandy thickets

Poison Sumac in the U.S.

map of poison sumac in the U.S.

Source: The CDC

Poison sumac is a shrub or small tree found across a large portion of the Southeastern United States. Poison sumac usually grows in wooded, swampy areas and is a member of the cashew family. Like poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac contains urushiol. However, it is considered more allergenic as it results in a very inflamed, painful, and itchy rash. 

image of poison sumac in the U.S.

What does poison sumac look like? Poison sumac is a deciduous tree or shrub that can reach up to 20 feet tall. Poison sumac grows between 7-13 smooth, oval leaflets, and colors can change with the season. 

The Best Treatment is Prevention

The best poison oak, sumac, and ivy treatment is prevention. Knowing what plants to watch for in specific hiking areas is important. Since so much of the United States is covered in these poisonous plants (and since they vary so widely in appearance) make sure you stay protected. Outdoor Joe's® poison ivy prevention is more than just a poison ivy treatment. Since all of these plants contain urushiol (the cause of a rash), Outdoor Joe’s® can give you immunity to all of these pesky plants! 

Never Get a Poison Ivy, Sumac, or Oak Rash Again! 

Hike any trail (or explore beyond the trail!) without worrying about stumbling across any poison iv, poison oak, or poison sumac. Become totally immune by adding Outdoor Joe’s® to your hiking essentials today!