Difference between Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

January 14, 2017 by Editorial Team

What can ruin a hike or a picnic? Some poison ivy or poison oak rashes, that’s what! Imagine getting all excited about a day spent outside only to come back with blisters, itching, scratching and swearing off outdoor activities forever. This does not sound like a good plan at all! But what can you do about it? Can you tell poison oak and poison ivy apart? Are both just as bad for you? Keep reading.


Poison ivy

Poison ivy, or Toxicodendron radicans, is a poisonous plant that grows in Asia and North America. You find it in wooded areas where the tree line breaks and sunlight filters in, in mountainous areas, and in areas subjected to occasional flooding. It does not thrive in the desert or arid soil. There are numerous subspecies of poison ivy, which you can tell apart from how they grow. They can either be climbing vines, growing vines or shrubs.

You can identify poison ivy by its cluster of three leaves, with the middle leaf having a notably longer stem. The leaves can range in size from the length of a thumb to the length of a palm. The color varies according to season and it produces green or yellow flowers and white or yellow-green berries. Be on the lookout for a waxy sheen on the plants, as that is the urushiol, the toxic substance that causes the skin allergies. This oil is in all other parts of the plant as well.

Poison oak
Poison oak

Poison oak, or Toxicodendron diversilobum, is a poisonous plant widely distributed across North America. It grows in the form of a shrub or vine in open and dry woodlands, in conifer forests, chaparral biomes and in grasslands.

Tts oak-like glossy green leaves are grouped in clusters of three. However, its colors change according to the season and it produces white berries. Urushiol is found on the leaves, in the stem, and in the berries.


These two plants come from the same genus and family but from different species. Also, their distribution varies, as poison ivy can be found in urban and suburban areas, in forests, or in mountain regions. Poison oak, however, is more common in grasslands, conifer forests, chaparral biomes, and woodlands.

They both grow like shrubs and vines, yet some types of poison ivy may also take the form of climbing vines. Also, the leaves of poison ivy are pointed and have a dull waxy sheen, whereas the leaves of poison oak are rounded and glossy.

Comparison Chart

Poison IvyPoison Oak
Toxicodendron radicans Toxicodendron diversilobum
Common in urban, suburban, or woodland areasCommon in grasslands, conifer forests, woodlands, or chaparral biomes
Grows like a climbing vine, a growing vine, and a shrubGrows like a vine or a shrub
Has pointy leavesHas rounded leaves
Its leaves have a dull, waxy sheenIts leaves are glossy