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Poison Ivy - Metropolitan Forestry Services

Image of a backyard all sorts of different large trees.

Leaf(lets) of three, let it be!

General Description:

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is fairly common throughout much of the United States.  It is most know for its toxic oils emitted from the plant that can cause a rash when in contact with skin.

Identifying Characteristics:

The old adage says ‘Leaves of three let it be.’  While several plants have 3 leaflets per leaf this rule certainly helps apply some caution before approaching this plant.  The plant has medium green leaves with some course lobes on the bottom half of the leaflets.  Its stems are red which is carried over onto reddish hairy stems.

This plant can be uniquely variable in its growth and habit.  It can be found creeping along the ground, form a small shrub like plant, or found growing as a vine climbing over trees and structures.


While contact with Poison Ivy can lead to developing a rash on many people it does have some  redeeming ecological benefits.  The fruits of this plant are a minor food source for many bird species, which is how this plant often spreads.  Fall color from the foliage of this plant can often be impressive with very saturated red colors similar to the very popular Red Maples, Sumacs, and Burning Bushes.


Overall Poison Ivy is a tough plant and can grow in a variety of conditions.   These plants are largely found along roadsides, forests, forest edges, meadows, and fence rows, alleyways, and between properties in residential areas..


CAUTION should always be used when handling this plant.  The poison is transmitted by oils found in all parts of the plants from its leaves to its stems to its roots.  This oil can also be suspended on top of water if the plant is growing nearby or vaporized in smoke and fire if the plant is burned.  The oils do not easily break down and can be found on the plant long after the plant goes dormant, dies or is killed by mechanical or chemical treatment.

For a pdf copy of this factsheet: Poison Ivy

"Thank you so much for all the information you provide – the watering information, the emails and the flier. I read it all and have learned so much."

– Cynthia K.

Our goal is to provide you with the best possible service. If you are not satisfied with any treatment or completed job, we will resolve the situation to your satisfaction. We want to do our utmost to ensure your trees and shrubs are always 'green and growing'.