13 Plants that Look Like Poison Ivy... But Are Totally Different


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Jul 29, 2023

13 Plants that Look Like Poison Ivy... But Are Totally Different

Enter your email in the box below to get the most mind-blowing animal stories and videos delivered directly to your inbox every day. Lots of people know the adage, “Leaves of three, let it be.” Of

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Lots of people know the adage, “Leaves of three, let it be.” Of course, it’s not that simple. There are lots of plants with groupings of three leaflets that are perfectly harmless. Granted, poison ivy can be hard to identify because it can be a creeper, a vine, or even a bush. This article describes 13 plants that look like poison ivy, but aren’t.

Two ways to distinguish poison ivy from other plants that have compound leaves made up of three leaflets are the small yellowish-white flowers that appear from May to July and the white berries that appear in August. Another thing to look for is the stems on an older plant. These stems bear rootlets that make them look hairy. The plant is also most likely to be found east of Texas, though it now has a foothold in Arizona. On the other hand, even poison ivy has its positives. Its leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall. Birds are very fond of its berries and eat them with no problem. Here are the 13 poison ivy mimics.


Virginia creeper is not only harmless to the casual touch, but people plant it to beautify the exterior of their house since it turns wonderfully red in the fall. Its leaves also keep the house cool in the summer. Virginia creeper also has the advantage over regular ivy in that it doesn’t destroy mortar as it climbs up brick walls. Birds eat the fruits that appear with its autumn colors. The fruit of the Virginia creeper is black, which is another way to tell it from poison ivy.

The Virginia creeper also differs from poison ivy in that it usually has five leaflets as opposed to poison ivy’s three, though sometimes you can find a stalk with three leaflets. The leaflets are toothed and can be from 1 to 8 inches long. The vine itself can grow as long as 70 to 100 feet. The reason it doesn’t destroy mortar is that it clings to brick with tiny tendrils or adhesive pads as opposed to penetrating them with roots as some species of ivy do.

Two things to be aware of when considering Virginia creeper are that its sap is full of raphides, a toxin that can cause irritation if it gets on the skin, and that poison ivy and Virginia creeper like to grow together.


A type of maple, box elder eventually becomes a tree that grows to 50 to 65 feet tall, but it is often confused with poison ivy when it’s a sapling. That’s because it does have the compound leaf made up of three leaflets with indented edges. Like poison ivy, the tree is also partial to wet soil and can become invasive. The way to tell them apart is that poison ivy’s leaflets are alternating while the leaves of box elder are opposite.

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Boston ivy isn’t a true ivy and is in fact related to the Virginia creeper. As such, it clings to supports with little tendrils and adhesive disks and does little damage to buildings. Not only this, it keeps buildings cool in hot weather and adds beauty.

Because it’s a vine with pointed leaves with three lobes, Boston ivy is often mistaken for poison ivy. However, it’s relatively easy to tell the two apart because Boston ivy usually bears simple leaves while poison ivy’s leaves are compound. Now and then the lobes are so deep that the leaf appears compound, which may lead to confusion. But another way to tell the plants apart is that the Boston ivy’s fruits are dark blue.

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Like some types of poison ivy, the fragrant sumac is a shrub that can grow from 2 to 5 feet tall with a 5 to 10 foot spread. Like its cousin poison ivy, fragrant sumac has a compound leaf with three leaflets. However, its flowers are yellow and appear before the leaves, and its fruit is red and hairy. Like the fruit of the poison ivy, it is food for birds during the winter, and its leaves have a beautiful fall color. Another characteristic that lets you tell fragrant sumac from poison ivy is that the leaflet in the center of poison ivy’s compound leaf has a stem. The center leaflet in the fragrant sumac doesn’t.


The one thing that separates poison ivy from the blackberry vine is that poison ivy has no prickles, while the prickles of the blackberry can be vicious. Another way to tell the two plants apart is that the blackberry, while having compound leaves, has either five or seven leaflets that are much smaller than the leaves of the mature poison ivy. After a couple of years, the blackberry also produces masses of beautiful white or pale pink flowers in spring. Delicious fruit whose dark purple-black color gives the plant its name follows the flowers.

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The raspberry is much like the blackberry, so much so that gardeners are warned to plant them at least 300 feet apart to keep them from cross-pollinating. The one thing that tells them apart is that the raspberry loses the torus, or stem when it’s picked. This causes the hole in the center of the fruit. Raspberries also don’t have quite as long a shelf life as blackberries and are at their most flavorful when they’re eaten right after picking. They can be red, yellow, blue, purple, black, or even white.


Dewberries are related to and look like blackberries except they are trailing plants, to the point where their other name is ground berry. Like the blackberry, the stems are prickly and the plant produces white flowers in early spring. The flowers give way to green berries that turn red and then purplish black. The compound leaves of the dewberry are not only not poisonous but are used to make tea.


The mock or wild strawberry is a prostrate plant whose trifoliate leaves make some people mistake it for poison ivy. However, the plant produces yellow flowers beginning in mid-spring and continuing piecemeal throughout the summer. The fruits are small, red or white. Though edible, they’re tasteless unless you eat them immediately after picking.

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The bushkiller vine is native to Australasia but is now found in some of the southern United States. It gets its name because it can become invasive and kill plants and trees by blocking their sun. Their weight can even pull down trees. Bushkiller shouldn’t even be composted because it can still re-sprout. It’s mistaken for poison ivy and the Virginia creeper because it is an aggressive vine and because of its compound leaves. However, this plant has five leaflets while the poison ivy has three, and the vine is herbaceous as opposed to woody like the vine of the poison ivy. The bushkiller’s flowers, which can be yellow, red, or white, appear late in the summer and come in umbels. Its fruit is grape-like and black.

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Found in the moist woods of Eastern North America, the hog peanut is a vine, has compound leaves with three leaflets, and is easy to mistake for poison ivy. However, the stems twine around their support in a way the poison ivy vine doesn’t, and its small, orchid-like flowers are pink, lilac, or white. They also arrive much later than the flowers of the poison ivy and can be closed or open. The peanut part of the plant’s name comes when closed flowers stay beneath the ground and produce seeds. These seeds, like the peanut, are edible. Seeds from flowers that grow above the ground come in flat pods if the flower is open or round pods if the flower is closed.


The plant Arisaema triphyllum sensu lato is found from Nova Scotia to Florida and Texas, and before it produces its spectacular flower it can be mistaken for poison ivy. Its species name, triphyllum, literally means “three-leaved.” The plant can grow to two feet in height and has one or two compound leaves with three leaflets of dull green. When the plant flowers it is very easy to tell from poison ivy or any other plant. Its flowers are actually tiny but they bloom on a spadix inside a spathe. The spadix is Jack and the spathe is the pulpit he preaches from. Smaller plants produce all male flowers, then flowers of both sexes, then end up with all female flowers. This is very unusual.

Eventually, the flowers give way to fruits that start out as green then turn brilliant red by fall. Each of these berries has one to five seeds. Like the Virginia creeper, jack-in-the-pulpit is full of raphides so must not be eaten raw. It can be cooked and was used medicinally by Native Americans.

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Jewelweed is a member of the Impatiens genus. There are at least two North American plants called Jewelweed, I. capensis and I. pallida. I. capensis can grow between 2 and 5 feet in height, while I. pallida grows a little taller. Both plants are often found together. They have long, thin, smooth oval leaves, and the leaves of I. pallida are toothed. Though they are simple, the leaves of the jewelweed might still be mistaken for the leaves of the poison ivy, especially when the plant is not in flower. Jewelweed also grows in wetlands, which also links it with poison ivy. But the flowers of I. capensis are orange, those of I. pallida are yellow and both are orchid-like. The seeds are found in pods, and if you touch them, the pods explode and scatter the seeds. This gives the jewelweed its other name of “touch me not.”

Jewelweed, like jack-in-the-pulpit and Virginia creeper, has raphides, but the young shoots are edible if they are boiled. You can also eat the seeds.

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Though this vine is native to Asia, it is associated with the Southern United States. Like the bushkiller vine, it is an aggressive weed that blocks out the sun from other plants and kills them. Kudzu can grow up to 60 feet, and it’s not unusual to see entire stands of tall trees smothered by it. Like poison ivy, the kudzu has a hairy stem and compound leaves divided into three leaflets that are ovate or round and between 4 and 6 inches long. It can be told from poison ivy by its purple flowers and hairy, flattened, greenish-brown pods that are up to 2 inches long. Still, kudzu mainly reproduces through runners and rhizomes.

Another thing that separates kudzu from poison ivy is that it’s often fed to livestock, its flowers are used to make jelly, and its roots are used for starch. It also has medicinal uses, and its fibers are used to make baskets, paper, and clothing. Kudzu improves the soil, and as a relative of the pea, it fixes nitrogen.

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