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How to identify and (safely) remove poison ivy and other poisonous plants in Maryland

Updated: May 21

Maryland is home to several varieties of poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac. No matter what variety you might have in your yard, you're going to want to safely eradicate it - especially if you have children or pets.

Poison Ivy

Ever hear Grandpa tell you: “Leaves of three, let them be!” While there are other plants which have leaf clusters in threes, both poison ivy and poison oak share this trait - making it best to avoid plants with this feature altogether. Right about now as we approach summer, you'll notice that poisonous leaves are small and also shiny.

What you’ll most likely encounter with poison ivy is a stem with a larger leaf at the end and two smaller leaves shooting off the sides. The leaves can be notched or smooth on the edges with pointed tips. The plant is reddish in the spring, green in summer, and yellow/orange in the fall. It’s not uncommon to see clusters of greenish-white berries on poison ivy as well as green/yellow flowers through the spring and summer.

Poison ivy can take the form of a vine or a shrub. The plant’s appearance varies widely based on the region and specific environment where it grows, which is everywhere in the US (with the exceptions of Hawaii, Alaska, and parts of the Southwest deserts).

Poison Oak

Like poison ivy, this plant most often grows leaves in clusters of three - although some varieties display five or seven per cluster. The defining feature is that the leaves have a lobed, wavy appearance (also described as scalloped) - similar to oak tree leaves - but more subdued. Another characteristic that sets it apart from poison ivy is that the tips of the leaves are rounded rather than pointed. Its leaves are bright green in spring, turn yellow-green or pink in summer, and finally turn yellow into dark brown in the fall.

Poison oak is generally a shrub, averaging about 3 feet tall, but shoots of it can also grow as a vine. Not commonly found in the middle part of the U.S., poison oak is primarily situated on the West coast, and the East coast/Southeast.

Poison Sumac

Poison Sumac is a simple shrub (which can also grow as a tree) with thirteen leaves on each stem that takes on an alluring red during the fall season. However, despite its colorful appearance, this isn’t a plant you’d want to cultivate at home. Though more commonly found deeper south, poison sumac still crops up occasionally in Maryland, particularly on the Eastern shore.

Any of these three plants can cause sever allergic reactions and should not be removed by a landscaping novice. The most common mistake is pulling them out as "weeds" and developing rashes, or burning them with yard waste and inhaling the fumes. We recommend that you seek professional help when eradicating a poison plant infestation. To discuss yard clean-up and residential landscaping services, please contact us at 443-846-0199 or

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