Did You Know? Poison Ivy vs Virginia Creeper

The poison ivy is out in full force. It seems like everywhere I look, the three-leaved bandit is popping up. There are very few plants that I would like to eradicate permanently but poison ivy is one of them. It’s hard for me to find God’s purpose in poison ivy…it’s a vine that chokes out other plants and it makes whoever touches it miserable. I guess life is full of unanswered questions…

My objective with this post is to make sure that you understand the difference between poison ivy and Virginia creeper. Many people think that they know the difference only to discover that they don’t. I know of a lady that thought she knew the difference and proceeded to work all day removing large established poison ivy plants…she ended up in the hospital several days later and had to be given large doses of steroids…ouch!

There is a saying “leaves of three, leave them be”. That’s the distinguishing characteristic of poison ivy: it has three leaflets.

poison ivy

Virginia creeper has five leaflets, although some juvenile plants can have three leaflets at some point on the vine. But if you keep observing the vine, you’ll notice five leaflets at some point.

poison ivy
Photo courtesy of www.muohio.edu

 

If you are clearing overgrown areas of your property in the winter, look out for hairy vines like these.

poison ivy
Photo courtesy of www.poisonivy.org

 

They are a tell-tale sign of poison ivy. And yes, they carry the same punch in the winter as they do in the summer. If you have to remove poison ivy, the best time to do it is in the winter but you still need to be extremely careful…it’s the oil from the plant that really does the damage. That oil is known as urushiol and it can be spread by direct contact or through the air. NEVER BURN POISON IVY PLANTS! The oil can be dispersed through the air and that is something that you never want to inhale.

So, can you differentiate between poison ivy and Virginia creeper? Have you ever had a run in with poison ivy? Let me know by leaving me a comment below or sending me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

May 21, 2012Permalink 8 Comments

8 thoughts on “Did You Know? Poison Ivy vs Virginia Creeper

  1. Doctor said I got it through my blood stream and the outbreak started in my right eye and worked its way down to my lips and started up to my left eye. Doctor said steroids were important due to poison possibly causing harm to my eye and it was breaking out all over my body. I will not take/touch it lightly ever again!!!

  2. Oh, Stacey. Poison Ivy. Geez.

    Yes, I can tell the difference, even in winter. Doesn’t seem to matter. Poison Ivy just hides. One of the worst I had recently was when I dug raspberry canes for my sister in January a few years back. The doctor just shook her head and ordered the shot.

  3. I’m with you although I used to end up with the steroid pack. I feel very blessed to have not had a bad case in several years. That is some miserable stuff!

  4. Two years ago, I was weeding for a friend while killing time waiting for a ride to my bus back to NYC from NH, and grabbed a plant I thought was Virginia Creeper. My first clue was that it resisted being pulled up easily. I got on the bus and because of the air conditioning was handling my scarf around my face and neck. I didn’t shower when I got home because I had showered before I left…..
    Fast forward a week later, back in NH for a visit again and in the emergency room for weeping blisters – yup, poison ivy

    Yesterday I took a gardening job and spent the majority of the time pulling up Virginia Creeper vines. Today I have some lovely red rashing on my face and neck and calf. I DID shower when I got home yesterday, but didn’t use any Dawn. I find putting anti perspirant on it stops the itching – I hope my reaction is milder this time…..

  5. I have researched Virginia Creeper because until I moved to coastal NC, I had never heard of it. It was only after I had several severe blistery outbreaks that I went on-line to look for photos of all poisonous plants that could grow wild in NC. I found photos of the pretty 5-leaved vine and finally knew what I had been getting into while doing yard work. Interestingly, there are those who insist that it is not poisonous and advocate growing it on purpose. Much to my surprise, I found that it is propagated and sold by many nurseries. Many comments made by those who are not allergic sounded almost hostile and seemed to think that we who “claim” to be allergic are just confused since it does often grow alongside of poison ivy. I have never heard anyone who was NOT allergic to poison ivy say that they believed that their allergic friends must be confused about what was making them break out and itch and ooze. Virginia Creeper is a very pretty vine, but I would advise caution before assuming that you or anyone else could not have a severe reaction to it. I learned that lesson the hard way and now try to warn others to be careful.

  6. Thank you all. I found your comments extremely helpful. Many years ago, I spotted what I now know to be Virginia Creeper. My husband asked about it from a local nursery and was told it was “desirable” so we let it go. However this year, it seems to be choking the life out of my juniper bushes and everything else it touches so I’ve been concerned. We recently had a mason come by and he wouldn’t get remotely close to it so I did my research. Again, thank you all. Tomorrow, we have a company coming here to give us an estimate for removal of poison ivy which recently cropped up. I’m having that creeper removed as well.

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