Toxicodendron radicans: Eastern Poison Ivy

Some Basic Advice: leaves of three, let them be!!! 



Is That Poison Ivy?

Poison ivy is easily identified by several distinguishing characteristics:



  • clusters of three leaflets
  • alternate leaf arrangement
  • a lack of thorns
  • each grouping of leaflets is growing on its own stem

How you get it/How it spreads

The key to not getting poison ivy is to avoid getting the urushiol (oo-roo-shee-ohl) oil from the plant on your skin and your clothing. The problem with poison ivy isn’t the plant itself, it is the urushiol found inside the plant’s leaves, berries, roots and stems.

When you disturb or damage the leaves or other parts of the plant it releases urushiol. Once this oil contacts the skin of a sensitive individual, the oil will rapidly penetrate the outer layer of the skin and work its way into the  dermal layers where the allergic reaction occurs. Generally it doesn’t take that much oil to cause a reaction. Barely brushing your skin against the plant can leave you with a rash of red pimples, or even blisters.  Your body responds to the irritating oil by producing histamines.

The poison ivy king! He got this famous rash by digging a hole in the ground and scraping the earth up with his forearms - not realizing that the roots in the hole were poison ivy. Which proves you can get the rash from the roots. This photo has become the symbol for the folks at Ivy Block.

The poison ivy king! He got this famous rash by digging a hole in the ground and scraping the earth up with his forearms – not realizing that the roots in the hole were poison ivy. Which proves you can get the rash from the roots.                  From

You don’t need to come into direct contact with poison ivy to react to it.  The oils from the plant can be transferred to your skin from clothing, pets and any object that has the oil on it.

Check out the CDC’s page to see how Poison Ivy works!

Is it Contagious?

The short answer is No! Often people get the poison ivy oil on their hands and spread the oils to other parts of their bodies from direct contact. You can still get poison ivy from any residual oils that are left on clothing, boots, gear, or even fido. Fortunately, once the oil has been washed off you are not able to spread the oils anymore. Any fluid that oozes from the rash or blisters is just your body inflammatory cells doing their job. There is no oil in the fluid so you can’t contaminate unaffected areas.


If you are going to be in an area where you know there is poison ivy, consider lessening your chances of getting it by:

  • Wearing high socks. This will decrease the chances of getting it on your ankles.
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
  • After contacting poison ivy, change and wash your clothing as soon as possible.
  • Consider banishing the dog from your tent if you know they have been running through poison ivy, because the oil on the fur can be transmitted to your skin and gear.


  • Wash the exposed area within 10 minutes of being exposed. The goal here is to dilute the oil as much as possible. Urusiol is not soluble in water, so washing the areas that have been in contact with the plant using camp soap is highly recommended. You may not have camp soap so at least rinse your skin off with cold water. **If you have a bandanna, do not use this to clean yourself off!  You do not want to chance spreading the oil to other parts of your body.
  • Take time to wash your clothing. You probably don’t have the washing machine in your pack, so when you get to town wash all of your clothing using detergent. Consider washing boots and laces with a rag and detergent if you were really frolicking in the patch.
  • Fido probably needs a bath!!!

Relief from the Itching

Often you won’t even realize you’ve been in contact with poison ivy until nasty rash begins to develop. And here comes the Itch! Fortunately, relief can come in many forms.

  • There are many over the counter liquids such as Tecnu or calamine lotion that you can use to treat your issue.
  • If you are in the backcountry your med-kit may have just what you need to treat the inflammation and itching. Benadryl is a useful antihistamine that will help reduce the inflammation and itching.
  • Wild botanicals can also be used.
    • The sap of some flowering plants can provide you with some relief from the itching and inflammation. The plants available to you may depend on the region you are hiking so it is advisable that you know your plants before crushing and putting the sap on your skin.
      • Jewelweed commonly know as forget-me-nots, snapweed or impatiens is useful for treating poison ivy. The plant is easily recognizable by its trumpet shape flowers that hang downward and its translucent unbranched stalk. You can find jewelweed in damp shady areas along creek beds and in moist shady areas throughout the forest. Jewelweed is common along the east coast from Canada to the Northern part of Florida. The flowers bloom from May to October. To use this, simply cut the stem open and squeeze the juice out as Impatiens, Jewelweed, Touch-Me-Not, Wildflower, Botanyyou rub it onto your skin.Impatiens, Flowers, Plant, Flora, Beautiful, Color


Poison ivy can be the bane of many hikers, but with a little caution and taking preventive steps you can prevent your hike from becoming an itching, oozing experience.


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