Is it Poison Ivy?

How many times have you asked this question?

It is quite common, in Lake of Bays, to have a situation where a landowner has misidentified Wild Sarsaparilla for Poison Ivy resulting in the eradication of the ‘culprit’ along with the existing biodiversity on their property.  I have seen entire lots cleared with a bulldozer due to lack of knowledge regarding Toxicodendron radicans.

I have found throughout my travels in my home zones that Poison Ivy tends to stick to human activity zones, particularly those zones, or towns that have a long human history, back to the days of horse and cattle traffic.  I had an elder tell me that the poison ivy seeds travelled and distributed through the ‘horses’ doovers’ – and I would bet on cow patties as well.

Hopefully this Poison Ivy Primer can help you spot the key differences between Poison Ivy and its ‘look alikes’.

Poison Ivy, Oxtongue River Rapids.


That’s a pretty good start, though there are many tri-foliate plants out there that are quite friendly, and useful for that matter.

Poison Ivy is shiny, very shiny, and has margins that are not serrated like a saw blade.  The margins are a little ‘ripply’.  The venation is quite evident.  The leaves are almost leathery and there is typically a little pink or red spot where the leaf margins meet in the middle, and often the base of the margin, or the entire margin of each leaf can be pinkish or reddish.

The stems and runners are woody.  The leaf scars are very prominent, quite similar to an ash twig.

The berries are white and unappealing.

Poison Ivy ‘berries’.  Petroglyphs Provincial Park.

Sometimes the sap of the Poison Ivy plant will oxidise and present as black tar upon the twigs.  It is this sap of the poison ivy plant that is the root of the problem.

The best thing to do if you are travelling among Poison Ivy, is to cover your footwear with gaiters, or something that can be washed easily with soap and water.

Soap and water is the best way to remove the sap from footwear and clothing.  Dish soap is excellent for cutting the oil and resins found in poison ivy sap.  If you are hand-washing an item, use gloves.

If you have skin contact with poison ivy sap, keep your hands off, don’t touch your face, mouth, nose or eyes, and try to get to a washing station as soon as possible. Apply soap concentrate to the sap on skin or clothing, and try not to smear the sap any further than where it made contact.

Pinch the sap up gently, rather than scrubbing.  It is probably best to dispose of the cleaning cloth.

You can then throw the clothes, solo, into the washing machine.

NEVER EVER BURN POISON IVY as a means of disposal, or you may damage your eyes and lungs, along with any other beings around you, with the toxic smoke.

                           NOT POISON IVY                             Dewberry in this instance are trailing and thorn-less.
                                                            NOT POISON IVY                                                  Goldthread in the foreground, and Sorrel in the back to the left do have three leaves and grow in dense mats.  Sorrel  is succulent, and Goldthread is shiny leathery in appearance like Poison ivy, but note the serrated margins of the Goldthread.

May the forest be with you.


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