How to Identify Poisonous Plants

posted on April 23, 2014
qa_ah2015_fs.jpg (30)

Q: I will be hunting with my two boys and would like to teach them the best way of identifying poisonous plants. Can you help?

A: There is no one rule for identifying poisonous plants. The most common culprits are poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, which are abundant in the Lower 48 and cause allergic skin reactions in millions each year. Plant structure varies by region and season. The plants are toxic year-round and release a potent antigen, the oil urushiol, when damaged. Once oil binds to skin proteins, contact dermatitis occurs as an itchy red rash with bumps or blisters. Wash away toxic oils after contact. Any left on your hands spreads the rash to wherever you touch as does contact with contaminated objects.

Poison Ivy: This is a trailing or climbing vine that grows as a short plant if it has no climbing support. It has three pointed leaflets, hence the saying, “Leaves of three, let them be.” However, leaves are not always uniform—which helps them blend in with nonpoisonous look-alikes—and appear reddish in spring, green in summer and yellow, orange or red in fall. Green flowers grow in the spring and are replaced by white berries. The stem hairs are arial roots that can also cause the infamous rash.

Poison Oak: This is a shrub with three to seven lobed leaflets and hairy undersides. Most common in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest, it has yellow-green flowers, and green or white berry clusters.

Poison Sumac: This grows as a shrub in the east with smooth leaflets and cream-colored drooping berries. The “leaves of three” rule is no help as sumac has seven to 13 leaves per branch, not three per cluster.


Draper Shooting S20 Hunter
Draper Shooting S20 Hunter

#SundayGunday: Sako S20 Hunter

Get a closer look at the Sako S20 Hunter, the latest addition to our #SundayGunday series.

Local Legends: Why Butch and Harold Still Prowl the Big Woods

The experience of two Vermont hunters shows it’s never too late to find a new hunting partner.

Non-Toxic Shot Roundup

Contributor Mike Roux discusses the ins and outs of non-toxic shot with his audience.

First Look: Garmin GPSMAP 67 and eTrex SE Handheld GPS Units

Whether you want a high-tech hunting device that’s loaded with sophisticated features or simply need an easy-to-use GPS to avoid getting lost in the woods, Garmin’s new handhelds have you covered.

Henry Repeating Arms Donates $25,000 to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever

Henry Repeating Arms has announced a donation of $25,000 to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever as part of its $1 million silver anniversary pledge and the company’s commitment to safeguarding America’s outdoors and hunting traditions.

Hardware: CVA Cascade XT

The new XT (X-Treme) is CVA’s precision-oriented rifle in the company’s popular Cascade rifle series, and boasts several features that make it an ideal multipurpose hunting rifle. 


Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.