Saturday, December 9, 2023


How to identify poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac

By Cheri Sicard
Greg from Outdoor Goyo is here to help us all stay rash- and itch-free this season with his terrific video on how to identify poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. And just in case you are seeing this video too late, Greg also covers how to treat the uncomfortable itchy rashes that can happen if you or someone you love interacts with these poisonous plants.

The video begins with how to identify poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac. Be sure to watch the video as it is best to see what it is you are trying to avoid.

The video will also show you in which area of the country each of these plants grows, so you can see if poisonous plants are anything you need to worry about where your travels will take you.

Poison ivy: Comes in two varieties: Western Poison Ivy, a ground vine, and Eastern Poison Ivy, a ground and a climbing vine. Poison Ivy can be found throughout the U.S. EXCEPT in California and parts of the Pacific Northwest coast.

Poison oak: Only exists on the Pacific coast and in the southeastern United States. In the West, poison oak is a ground and climbing vine. In the East, it is a ground vine or a shrub.

Poison sumac: Can be found in the wetlands and swamps of the Eastern Coast along with parts of the Gulf Coast in the south and parts of the Great Lakes shorelines in the north. Poison sumac is a small tree and it is only found in wet areas.

Greg says you want to avoid these poisonous plants at all costs. But it can be challenging because they can blend in with other plants, not to mention their appearance can change in different seasons.

What to do if you come in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac

If you think you might have come in contact with one of these plants, taking quick action might prevent its symptoms from manifesting. Depending on a variety of circumstances, you could have between two to six hours before the plants start causing a reaction. Don’t wait for that—take action by scrubbing the area with lots of soap and water. Greg says to think of the oils in the plants like car grease. Like car grease, they don’t just rinse off. The fact that they are clear, unlike car grease, makes it more challenging. So imagine you have clear car grease on your skin and you need to scrub it off with soap and water.

Best practices to avoid a poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac reaction:

  • Scrub with soap and water and a loofah or towel or any other implement that provides gentle exfoliation.
  • Greg recommends Fast Orange Extreme hand cleaner as a product that easily gets the job done. It’s likely what your mechanic uses to get rid of car grease.
  • You can’t often get to soap and water on the trail, so keep alcohol-based baby wipes in your backpack when out on the trail so you can remove the poisonous plants’ oils from your skin on the spot.

What to do if you get a rash from poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac

What if the worst happens? What if you didn’t scrub those plant oils off in time and you develop a rash? Here’s what Greg recommends:

  • Do not scratch!!!
  • Use calamine lotion to control the itch.
  • The only real cure is a product called Zanfel. This product is pretty pricey. However, according to Greg, if you have a bad case of poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, it really does work and it’s worth the $40 price. In the video, he explains the mechanics of how Zanfel works to provide the relief it does. (If you hike or spend a lot of time outdoors in poison oak, ivy or sumac areas, this is worth keeping in your first aid kit.)
  • If you have a serious rash that won’t stop spreading, it’s time to seek medical help, as it can migrate into the bloodstream.

One last tip from Greg: He says to teach everyone in your party how to identify poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, then make it a game to point them out while on the hiking trails.



5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Carl (@guest_243125)
5 months ago

Great article but……..
“Only exists on the Pacific coast in the southeastern United States.” ?????

Typographical error?
Is not the Pacific coast the “west coast?”

Cheri Sicard (@guest_243242)
5 months ago
Reply to  Carl

Thank you Carl, yes typo, going to fix now.

Diane McGovern
5 months ago
Reply to  Cheri Sicard

Sorry, Cheri. I read it too fast and read it as “and”.😲 –Diane

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.