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,┬áthe 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 19 Comments

19 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. I have been trying to tell the difference as I slowly attack the poison ivy creeping into my yard. I recently read that poison ivy leaves area always smooth, so if there is notching, it is Virginia creeper. However, your first picture claims to be of poison ivy, but has some notching. I am taking the safe route and just spraying everything until it stops coming back.

  5. 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…..

  6. I’ve had my run ins with the stuff down in Austin, TX. Ended up in the hospital more than once. I love your wordpress website. I just started making my own wordpress websites and I am impressed by this one.

    So how exactly does one go about getting rid of poison ivy?

  7. 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.

    • Me too – I’ve never once had a reaction poison ivy, but last year had a serious reaction to creeper. I’d love to set fire to the thing. I wish it were banned as the noxious weed that it is.

  8. 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.

    • It will tunnel through fieldstone or masonry too, and can travel 25-30 ft underground. I hate the stuff so much. The former owners of my house must have loved it or not known what to do about it, because we have 3 mature eastern sugar pines that are COVERED to the topmost branches. We had a tornado here a few years ago and we actually prayed that it would take the trees and creeper with it – lucky us, it missed them. It is invasive.

      • Alex, have you considered cutting it at ground level to kill the vine? It will look terrible with the dead leaves this summer but the rest of the vine will eventually fall from the trees. We’ve had to do that several times with different trees.

  9. No doubt. I’m in Denver, CO and have had at least 4 bad breakouts from Virginia Creeper, 1 very severe one also.

    My doctor always looks at me with disbelief when I tell him I got into the Virginia creeper vine and a broken out with a really bad rash.

    I even brought in a baggie with it to show them exactly what I had gotten into, and they still did not believe me.

    It’s the Oxalate crystals that cause this reaction for us “lucky ones.” I am always very careful in the yard, but I inevitably touch something that touched it and I break out. Mild to severe breakouts. It’s worse when it gets in the eyes too.

    I, like you, do not understand why people refuse to believe in causes so much irritation in certain individuals just because it does not happen to them.

    And I know the difference between Poison ivy in Virginia creeper.

  10. I used to get poison blisters regularly and couldn’t figure out how it happened until I found out it was the Virginia creeper I was pulling up. The blisters seemed larger and somehow different than poison ivy. These troublesome plants may have been innocent green vines at one time but when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden of Eden God put a curse on the ground, thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth as told in Genesis 3: 17-18 KJV

  11. The only success I ever had at eradicating poison vines from trees was to cut the vine 6-8″ from the ground, pour half a cup of a strong defoliant solution into a baggie, and tie it securely around the end going up into the tree with a twist-tie. Soak the other end in a similar solution and cover it with heavy black plastic, securing it also. Be sure to wear disposable gloves. Strip them off by turning them inside out and dispose of them immediately, then wash your hands with Tecnu or Dawn. Do Not touch your face!! Check the base area of your tree the following spring for re-emergence and re-treat as needed. As someone who is allergic to Virginia creeper, I also advise the purchase and use of a nail brush.

  12. thanks for the info. I’ve been in the er twice because of these plants and been treated w/ steroids several times already. I’m avoiding every creeping vine in my backyard since then.

  13. My father told me to remove “Those big old vines on the back of the house”. I asked him if he was sure it wasn’t poison ivy, oak, or sumac… “Yes i’m sure!” and he was right, but they were virginia creepers. And now i have blistering rashes all over my hands. Thank’s dad!

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