What does poison oak look like?

With poisonous plants being a widespread concern throughout much of North America, many people are looking to educate themselves on what to look for when examining plants. While most people are aware of the old adage of “leaves of three, leave it be” as a way of identifying poison ivy, there are other types of poisonous plants to be aware to keep yourself safe from developing a painful rash. While poison ivy is the most obvious culprit, poison oak is still a problem. Many people with a poison ivy rash may have come in contact with oak instead.  When it comes to poison oak identification, there are a few key distinguishers to know. 


Poison oak has the same three-leaf pattern as poison ivy but with a slight variation. The leaves are often shaped in a scalloped or wavy appearance and look quite similar to nonpoisonous oak leaves. While the shape is important, the color and texture also matter. The top of the leaves is usually glossy in appearance and range from green, yellow, red, or brown, depending on the season. Since these colors are similar to the color nonpoisonous plants display during the change of seasons, the telltale sign of the leaves is the glossy top and fuzzy underside.  Leaves that are nonpoisonous do not usually have a fuzzy underside. 

Vines and Stems

The vines and stems can be another key in correct poison oak identification. The vine will usually be more of a grayish color than poison ivy’s greenish color. The vine and stems will also be covered in thin hairs all over. Stems and vines do change colors with the seasons so you should consider what season you are in when examining a potential poison oak plant. During the spring and summer, it will be a grayish color. In the fall and winter, it will most likely turn brown. Poison oak will also have thorns, unlike poison ivy, depending on the species. 


While poison ivy typically has white flowers, poison oak has yellowish-green flowers that bloom in the spring when the plant is most potent. These flowers will eventually turn into a berry-like fruit. Poison oak produces small green berries compared to ivy’s whitish berries. 

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