Winter Weeds: Poison Ivy

Here’s a winter weed you really need to know about!

Without its “leaves of three” poison ivy looks very different in winter but its vine, berries and roots can still give you a rash.  Here are some photos and tips on how to identify it.

First and best clue:  The vine looks hairy.  If you see a vine like the one in this picture, don’t touch it, not even with your mitten!

Next clue:  The branches are stiff, a little crooked and mostly horizontal.  Sometimes the plant grows as a low shrub or as stand-alone sticks so the branches do stand up, but they still have that little crooked look.

A thriving patch of poison ivy can completely engulf a tree and when it does its branches reach out quite far.  I call them “devil’s arms” because they look like they’re reaching out to get me.  Look how long they are here!

Third clue:  The clumps you see on those “devil’s arms” are poison ivy berries.  They look like bunches of tiny white grapes, easy to see in the photo below. 

Birds eat the berries throughout the winter so the clumps will slowly disappear, leaving the branches bare.  It’s amazing that birds and other mammals don’t get a rash from poison ivy.  Only we do.

So watch out for a hairy vine!  Don’t touch those white berries!  Don’t dig up the root! 

Even though it’s winter you can still get a rash from this plant. 

For more information on poison ivy, see this blog and its links and comments.

(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

5 thoughts on “Winter Weeds: Poison Ivy

  1. I have poison oak like the photo you showed climbing up a tree in my yard. Does it help to sever the vine as close to the ground as possible? I would assume the top part dies — but maybe not.

  2. Yes, if you cut the vine the top part will die. It will probably resprout from the root but if you cut again and again, it will eventually kill the plant.

    Here’s a very helpful website on how to get rid of poison ivy (see halfway down):

    Make sure to clean your tools very carefully with copious amounts of water after you use them. Maybe even throw away the garden gloves. Copious water means “use a firehose.”

  3. Wow, I had always been under the impression that you couldn’t get poison ivy in the winter. I had several bouts of it (including one really bad one) over a 2 year period in 8th and 9th grade, but haven’t had it since (15+ years). I remember the 1st time I got it, I actually had it in a cut on my leg that I got while walking in some woods with my friends.

  4. I used an herbicide spray this summer on some PI where it really was a nuisance . You spray it on the leaves. It kills the roots. It also killed the grass where the roots were located – kind of disturbing.

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