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 Poison Ivy: Check for Leaves of Three

Poison ivy is ubiquitous and found in many areas. In Kansas, poison ivy can be found in every county. To avoid poison ivy dermatitis, you need to be aware of your surroundings. When approaching a brushy area, it’s important to know that poison ivy can be there. One of the first things to look for is leaves of three. When you see leaves of three, leave them be. For example, there is a lot of poison ivy on this tree.
Poison ivy has several growth habits. It can run on the ground, similar to a ground cover, it can climb a tree as a vine, and it can also grow as a shrub. Poison ivy has a compound leaf consisting of three leaflets. The unique feature of the three leaflets is that the center leaflet has a stalk, and the side leaflets do not. The side leaflets are attached directly to the stem. 
Another feature of the poison ivy is the fuzzy rope appearance of the vine as it attaches to trees, fences, and the side of buildings. If you see a fuzzy rope, it may be poison ivy, or it may be a plant that looks like poison ivy, but it’s not. It’s a non-poisonous plant called Virginia creeper. Virginia creeper also has a compound leaf, but it consists of five leaflets – not three. And with Virginia creeper, the leaflets have no stalks; they all join together at the center. So, it’s easy to tell Virginia creeper from poison ivy.
When it comes to poison ivy, just be aware of your surroundings. When you approach trees and shrubs, especially in parks, please be careful. Take a look and make sure you don’t see leaves of three.
This feature story prepared with Jacob Weber, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent for Crawford, Cherokee and Montgomery county. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.