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A poison ivy rash can be very uncomfortable. Learning to identify poison ivy plants can help you avoid the rash.

Poison ivy is an unwelcome guest on most properties. Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize the presence of poison ivy in their yard until it’s too late and they’ve already fallen victim to the uncomfortable, itchy red rash that is the plant’s hallmark.

The rash from poison ivy may first appear as just a slight itchy spot. But that spot will gradually get worse and can even cover the entire body with giant red sores if left untreated. That only highlights the importance of learning to recognize the plant and taking appropriate measures to prevent anyone from coming into contact with poison ivy on your property.

According to Health Canada, poison ivy can be found in every province except Newfoundland. It grows on sandy, stony, or rocky shores, and sprouts in thickets, in clearings, and along the borders of woods and roadsides. This glossy perennial can spread by seed or by producing shoots from its extensive underground stems.

Poison ivy is often confused with similar plants like poison oak and poison sumac. Poison oak has the most “oak-looking” leaves of any of the species. It usually has multi-lobed leaves, no aerial roots on the stems, and fuzzy fruits and leaves. Poison oak is not usually found in Canada, except for a western species that grows in southern British Columbia. Poison sumac, which tends to grow in wet soil conditions, never has only three leaflets, and is the only one of the three that has cream-coloured berries.

Some telltale signs of the poison ivy plant:

1. Poison ivy plants always have leaves of three.  The middle leaflet has a much longer stalk than the two side ones.

2. Poison ivy always grows left, then right. That means that the stem or branch of leaves closest to the root of the plant, will always lean left. Subsequent stems/branches can lean right. Stems/branches of poison ivy leaves are never side by side.

3. Poison ivy plants never have thorns.

4. The edges of poison ivy leaves can be smooth but are never saw-toothed or scalloped.

5. Poison ivy leaves vary greatly in size and will appear different colours depending on the season. In spring, the leaves of poison ivy will appear reddish. As spring turns into summer, the leaves will gradually appear more green. Come fall, the green leaves will become shades of yellow and  orange with some leaves featuring patches or spots of red.

Health Canada suggests that when working in or near poison ivy, you should always wear gloves and protective clothing to make sure that no area of your skin is exposed to the sap of the plant. Clothing worn while working around poison ivy should be carefully removed, washed in hot, soapy water, and hung outside to dry for several days. Do not wash clothing suspected of having sap on it with other laundry, You may need to repeat washing to get all the sap off.