“Leaves of three…” wait, what was it?

Hiking and Biking are wonderful ways to get out and explore the many wonderful trails in the Cedar Rapids area and really all of Eastern Iowa. And while you may remember that familiar mantra, “leaves of three, leave it be” from your childhood days, identifying poison oak, ivy, or sumac isn’t as easy as counting plant appendages.

Poison Ivy and Oak

Poison ivy and poison oak can adopt the growth pattern of neighboring plant life, making them very difficult to distinguish from other harmless plants. In an area filled with tall shrubbery, they will grow tall as well. In a field with grasses only, they will grow short like a harmless little weed. Sneaky!

The “leaves of three” look like a “T” at the end of the stem. Two leaflets will be opposite each other, with a third sticking straight out from the end. This pattern is ALWAYS true for poison ivy and poison oak. The leaflets may be shaped differently depending on the  neighboring vegetation—they could be simple ovals or ivy-shaped—but the pattern will be there.

Poison Sumac

Poison sumac can be even sneakier. Its leaves may be directly across from each other like the “T” shape, or they may alternate more like jagged shark’s teeth. The stem will be reddish, and the leaves will end in a point, however.

Another common characteristic of poison ivy, oak, and sumac is the oily coating on the leaves. This is the oil that gets on your skin and can spread the toxins. This oil gives the leaves a dull, glossy appearance that may be even more difficult to detect in a dusty environment. Called “urushiol,” there are specific products available that can wipe this toxic oil away from your skin or simple rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer with alcohol will help as well. It’s important to wash all clothing, bedding, and pets that have also been in contact with the oil to prevent the oil from spreading.

Will Glessner, about.com

Have you been itching to check out the foliage in a different backyard? Give me a call, and I can provide some listings that could be just what you’re looking for!