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Does Poison Ivy Have Thorns? 

There is nothing like a bad case of poison ivy to ruin a weekend camping trip, a hike in the woods, or gardening in your own backyard. We’re not talking about the plant itself. We’re referring to the rash that this leafy green vine causes when it comes into contact with human skin. 

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a common plant in most of the United States. It grows wild in forests and open woodlands. Since it is a vine, it utilizes existing trees and other structures to support itself while it grows. It can cover the ground or grow up vertical structures with ease. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the physical structure of poison ivy. You’ll learn how to identify poison ivy, what kinds of skin irritation it causes, and what to do when you encounter it in the wild. 

Keep reading to prepare for your next trip into poison ivy territory! 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Poison ivy is a soft, woody plant that has no thorns. 
  • It’s still a good idea to stay away from poison ivy because it contains compounds that cause skin irritation and allergic reactions in people. 
  • If you have been exposed to poison ivy, we recommend washing the affected area immediately, an 
  • Learn to identify poison ivy’s three leaves and red stems so you don’t accidentally touch it. 
  • Create a barrier between yourself and the environment if you must go somewhere with abundant poison ivy. We recommend wearing long sleeves and long pants. You can even wear gloves too. 

Does Poison Ivy Have Thorns? 

Poison ivy plant
Poison ivy plant | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

No, poison ivy does not have thorns. It is a soft plant without serrated or sharp leaves. However, the scentless, colorless urushiol resin that coats the plant causes itchy rashes and allergic reactions in people.

Urushiol resin is extremely powerful. A grain of salt’s worth of urushiol can cause severe rashes, itching and blistering all over a person’s skin. “If you encounter poison ivy, do not touch it. The resin will cause an itchy, red rash that can be quite painful and may even lead to blisters in some individuals.”

The only way to remove urushiol after being exposed is to wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water. Unfortunately, the reactions don’t occur for several hours. You may not be aware that you hiked or walked through a patch of poison ivy until you begin to break out in a rash. 

What Looks Like Poison Ivy But Has Thorns? 

Blackberry bushes are occasionally confused with poison ivy, especially from a distance. Both plants are naturally climbing vines.

Both plants are common in North American forests. They both gravitate to edge zones, such as the sides of roads and the edges of clearings. 

The good news here is that while blackberry bushes have thorns, they are harmless. Scientists believe blackberry bushes evolved thorns to keep animals away from their delicious berries. Raspberry bushes, which have thorns like blackberries, also fall into this category.

What is the easiest way to identify poison ivy? 

Plant poison ivy
Poison ivy | image by carterse via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The easiest way to identify poison ivy is based on the shapes of its leaves, the number of leaves, and the color of leaves. 

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First, look at the shapes of the leaves. Poison ivy leaves are usually teardrop shaped. They have a wide base that tapers to a point. They may have serrated or smooth edges; which kind depends on what environment you’re in. 

Second, count the leaves. Poison ivy always grows leaves in clusters of three. The central leaf has a longer stem than the two side leaves. The two side leaves’ stems always meet in the middle; they are opposite each other. 

Third, assess the plant’s color. In the spring and summer, the leaves should be green. In the fall, they turn yellow.

New leaves are often shiny, but this isn’t a reliable indicator of urushiol content. Any poison ivy leaf, whether shiny or dull, can cause a reaction. 

There are other differences in the way poison ivy grows. The western United States is home to poison ivy that usually grows as a bush. Other regions like the east, southeast, and central United States have poison ivy that climbs trees and vertical structures. 

What vines are mistaken for poison ivy?

collage of close to poison ivy
Virginia creeper (Left) Fragrant sumac (Middle) Box elder (Right)

North America’s temperate forests and woodlands are great places for vines and shrubs to grow. Poison ivy is not alone in this niche. There are several vine species of plants that are often confused with poison ivy. We’ll discuss several types and what makes them different from their itch-inducing neighbor. 

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is one of the most common doppelgangers of poison ivy. This vine creeps along the ground, just like poison ivy. Its leaves are green during the spring and summer.

Some turn red in the fall, just like poison ivy. Tell it apart from poison ivy by looking at how many leaflets are in each group. Virginia creeper has 5, while poison ivy has just 3. 

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) can be confused for poison ivy. It’s in the sumac family like poison ivy and it shares 3 leaflets per leaf with the skin-irritating plant. However, fragrant sumac berries are red, not white. The central stalk is not long on fragrant sumac. 

While they aren’t a vine, young box elder (Acer negundo) trees can be confused with ground-dwelling poison ivy plants. The resemblance is only for a short time since box elder grows from a sapling to a mature tree rather quickly. It can still pose a problem to people unfamiliar with poison ivy. 

What kills poison ivy permanently? 

A common question after you’ve discovered poison ivy growing on your property is how can the plant be removed? If you’re daring, you could put on gloves, long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and pull it out manually.

That’s more than most people are willing to handle. We’ll discuss how to remove poison ivy in a safe and effective way. 

Weed killer is your best bet for destroying poison ivy permanently. Poison ivy is tenacious so natural weed killers that require reapplication may not be the best choice here.  

Roundup, or glyphosate, is designed to kill any vegetation it is applied on, not just weeds. It is considered a carcinogen, so use sparingly in areas where children and pets play. You could also block off the area where you sprayed until the poison ivy dies. 

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Spray the leaves and central stem to remove ground-dwelling poison ivy. To get rid of climbing poison ivy, use a rake or shovel to find the central stem. Cut it off with clippers about 6 inches higher than the ground. Spray the stump with glyphosate.


Poison ivy would be a great deal easier to identify if it had thorns! Unfortunately, this vine does not, and it’s up to you to spot its characteristics. There are plenty of catchy rhymes out there that will help you do so. The most popular is “leaves of three, let it be.” 

Now that you know a little more about the traits of poison ivy, you’ll be equipped to avoid it in the future. 

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About Anna Lad

Anna is a wildlife biologist who graduated from Texas A&M in 2020. She enjoys studying and learning about wild birds and wildlife of all types.