CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Whether you are working outside or enjoying some time outdoors, it’s important to know how to spot and protect yourself from poisonous plants.

Sap oil – known as urushiol – from plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can cause an allergic reaction after making contact with the skin.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the adage “leaves of three, let it be” is a great reminder in identifying poison ivy and oak, but not poison sumac because it typically has clusters of 7-13 leaves.

“Even poison ivy and poison oak may have more than three leaves and their form may vary greatly depending upon the exact species encountered, the local environment, and the season,” the CDC said.

Poison Ivy Leaflets (Photo: clubhousearts –


  • Eastern poison ivy is typically a hairy, ropelike vine with three shiny green (or red in the fall) leaves budding from one small stem
  • Western poison ivy is typically a low shrub with three leaves that does not form a climbing vine
  • May have yellow or green flowers and white to green-yellow or amber berries
Shiny Pacific Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) (Photo: Sundry Photography –


  • Typically, a shrub with leaves of three, similar to poison ivy
  • Pacific poison oak may be vine-like
  • May have yellow or green flowers and clusters of green-yellow or white berries
Poison sumac (Photo: Greg Mailaender –


  • Woody shrub that has stems that contain 7-13 leaves arranged in pairs
  • May have glossy, pale yellow, or cream-colored berries
  • Those working outdoors may try to avoid the plants, but indirect contact through touching tools, animals, or clothing with urushiol can cause irritation. Health leaders say burning the poisonous plants will produce smoke that can cause lung irritation when inhaled.


Symptoms include red rash within a few days of contact, swelling, itching and possible bumps, patches, streaking or weeping blisters.

If you have been exposed, the CDC says you should immediately wash the skin with rubbing alcohol, poison plant wash, or degreasing soap like dishwashing soap or detergents, and plenty of water.

“Rinse frequently so that wash solutions do not dry on the skin and further spread the urushiol,” health officials said.

Be sure to scrub under the nails with a brush and apply wet compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and blistering.

Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room if you have a severe allergic reaction, such as intense swelling or difficulty breathing, or if you have had a severe reaction in the past.


  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves.
  • Wash exposed clothing separately in hot water with detergent.
  • Barrier skin creams, such as lotion containing bentoquatum, may offer some protection.
  • After use, clean tools with rubbing alcohol or soap and plenty of water. Urushiol can remain active on the surface of objects for up to 5 years. Wear disposable gloves during this process.