Poison Ivy … or Not?

by | Feb 14, 2019 | Native Plants

We certainly don’t want to inspire false confidence in the face of potentially poisonous plants, so consider this a hands-off plant primer. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is extremely variable, and it has many native Texan lookalikes, most of which share its three-leaflet characteristic. The safest (and least itchy) course of action is to heed the saying, “Leaves of three, let it be.”

ILLUSTRATIONS Samantha N. Peters

Poison ivy ILLUSTRATION Samantha N. Peters

POISON IVY (Toxicodendron radicans)

Leaves: Three glossy leaflets with smooth (sometimes toothed) edges; base leaves may have notches; each three-leaflet set is arranged alternately from others on stems; red in fall Habit: Vine (typically) or shrub, stems have hairy appearance, lack tendrils Fruit: Small, yellow-white to amber berries ripen in late summer

Wafer ash ILLUSTRATION Samantha N. Peters

WAFER ASH (Ptelea trifoliata)

Leaves: Three smooth leaflets with a strong resemblance to poison ivy, yellow in fall Habit: Small to medium tree Fruit: Papery wafers containing seeds emerge in summer from delicate and fragrant greenish- white flowers

Virginia creeper ILLUSTRATION Samantha N. Peters

VIRGINIA CREEPER (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Leaves: Five leaflets rather than three, red in fall (like poison ivy) Habit: Vine with tendrils that attach via discs Fruit: Green fruit turning blue-black when ripe in fall

Box elder ILLUSTRATION Samantha N. Peters

BOX ELDER (Acer negundo)

Leaves: Unlike poison ivy, three-leaflet sets are opposite one another on stems; terminal leaflets sometimes have two noticeable lobes; yellow in fall Habit: Medium to tall tree, young plants look more like poison ivy Fruit: Seeds hang from samaras in long, drooping clusters

Peppervine ILLUSTRATION Samantha N. Peters

PEPPERVINE (Nekemias arborea)

Leaves: Dark green, coarsely toothed and usually binnately compound (leaflets are arranged on secondary stems), pale yellow in fall Habit: High-climbing vine, occasionally acts like groundcover Fruit: Purplish-black berries that ripen in fall (green to pink) when unripe