How Can I Tell If its Poison Oak or Sumac?


Like poison ivy, poison oak and sumac contain oils that irritate the skin. Exposure is usually caused by direct contact with the plants, but you can also encounter the irritating oils through contact with tools, clothing or other items that have contacted poison oak or sumac. These plants blend in easily with other plants and may grow unnoticed until someone has an unfortunate encounter with them and develops the telltale itchy, weeping rash. If you are able to identify poison oak or sumac, you may be able to avoid such accidental encounters.

Poison Oak

  • Look for low-growing shrubs. Visually check the shrub for clusters of three leaves on the ends of the stems. Leaves will be green, sometimes with red margins in the spring that turn fully green in the summer. Leaves then turn red or brown in the autumn. Oak is deciduous and no leaves will be present in winter.

  • Check that the leaves have slightly scalloped edges. Poison oak leaves are not perfectly round or oval.

  • Look for clusters of pale berries, about the size of peas, if looking at the plant in early fall or later summer.

Poison Sumac

  • Look for shrubs that are 5 to 8 feet tall or trees that are up to 25 feet tall. Poison sumac prefers wet soils and is often found in swampy areas.

  • Visually check stems for leaflets, approximately seven to 13 per stem, growing out of each side of the stem, with a single leaf pointing from the tip of the stem. Sumac leaves are green during the warm seasons and become orange or red in autumn.

  • Check for clusters of small pale flowers or white or pale green berry-like fruits. Non-poisonous varieties of sumac, according to the University of Florida Extension, have red berries.


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