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Poison Ivy VS English Ivy – Comparison

Anyone from the southern parts of the United States or the Eastern parts of North America might be familiar with the catchphrases “leaflets of three, let it be” or “one, two, three, don’t touch me”, or perhaps even “longer middle stem, beware of them”, all in regards to a plant.

If you aren’t familiar with them, these phrases are used to describe poison ivy vines. However, other invasive plants could easily fit these descriptions apart from poison ivy plants, such as the English ivy plant, the box elder plant, the Boston ivy, or even the plants of common blackberries.

This article will help distinguish the poison ivy plant from the English ivy, which one of these two plants you can grow and care for indoors or in an outdoor garden, and the control, removal, and prevention of unwanted growth of these plants, with special tips on how to protect yourself while at it.

Poison Ivy: Points for Identification

A perk of poison ivy that makes it tricky to identify is that it has different looks during each season of the year. Poison ivy is a perennial plant, which means it can exist for many years and that the seasons have an impact on how it looks.

A poison ivy compound leaf (with leaflets). Image source: Learn Your Land on YouTube.

Poison ivy is also known as the Poison Creeper, the Three-Leaved Ivy, or the Eastern Poison Ivy. Its botanical name is Toxicodendron radicans, and it is an invasive species of the Cashew family (Anacardiaceae). It is one of the native plants of north America, particularly its east coast, but can be easily introduced into other areas because of its method of seed dispersal.

Poison ivy is one of those invasive plants found as a woody, thick and hairy vine that grows on tree trunks, walls, or fences, especially during the months of summer. The thickness and hairiness of its invasive vines on whatever structure it grows on are because of adventitious rootlets on the vine that allow the plant to cling to vertical surfaces.

The plant has compound leaves of three leaflets (the three leaflets make a single compound leaf) which alternate up the stem. Poison ivy leaves are between 2–4 inches long and approximately 2.5 inches wide. It can have different leaf shapes, and the leaflet margins can be lobed, toothed, or have smooth edges. They are also occasionally glossy and have petioles.

Poison ivy plants also produce tiny, white flowers (which start as flowering buds). The flowers last for a few weeks (usually from late May through to early June). After blooming, the flowering clusters are about 4 inches long, with each flower on a cluster being about a quarter of an inch in length. The flowers give rise to fruits (little white berries) that persist through seasons for much longer.

Poison ivy takes different forms in each season as it adapts to its environmental conditions. Let’s take a look at the different signs of growth of poison ivy through the four seasons of the year, as well as some physical characteristics we can use to identify the plant during each season:

Poison Ivy In (Early) Spring:

For poison ivy plants, this period is usually their growing season. It emerges from the ground with reddish, glossy, and small leaflets attached to woody stems which are rooted in the soil. It is necessary to keep in mind that poison ivy is not always a woody vine, but it is always a woody plant.

Poison Ivy in the early spring season. Usually identified with the saying “reddish leaflets in spring, it’s a dangerous thing.”

Poison Ivy In Summer

The leaves become fully green in summer. Some leaflets can be glossy, but this is not always the case. If you observe a compound leaf in this season, you will find that the petiolule (stalk that holds a leaflet up) of the terminal leaflet is longer than those of the side leaflets.

Petiolule and terminal leaflet of Poison Ivy in summer. The catchphrase “longer middle stem, beware of them” comes into play here.

Poison ivy also starts developing flower buds in late summer, which will eventually grow into flowers that give rise to fruits. The fruits can be found by checking in between and under the compound leaves. Fruits are shaped like berries, and they are initially green in the summer. They turn white later in the year.

Poison Ivy In Autumn

The compound leaves change their color almost completely to a pinkish red at this time of the year, which gives the leaves an ornamental look. The fruits ripen and change colors from their initial green to a creamy white. There is also a resurgence of ground-dwelling new plants in autumn months, this time with fresh greenish-red and oily leaves.

In Autumn, poison ivy leaves, as well as their fruits, change color. There is also new growth of the plants on the ground. Image source: Learn Your Land on YouTube.

Poison Ivy In Winter

The white fruits that matured during the autumn season persist throughout the winter. Birds often snack on these fruits. Poison Ivy is deciduous, which means it sheds its leaves in winter. These leaves are then replaced by pointed, brown-tanned, and naked buds. The buds are hairy and without scales, and they persist throughout the winter as well.

Now that we are aware of the appearance of poison ivy during each season, let’s take a look at English Ivy, how we can identify it, and how it’s different from poison ivy.

English Ivy: Points for Identification

English Ivy has similar characteristics to Poison Ivy in several aspects. Both are wild plants with invasive vines that grow on tree trunks, but they are not the same. There are conspicuous facts that differentiate them. Let’s take a look at some of the major defining characteristics of English Ivy:

English Ivy is otherwise called the Common Ivy, the Irish Ivy, the European Ivy, or the Algerian Ivy. Its common name is simply Ivy, and its botanical name is Hedera helix. It is a member of the Ivy family (Araliaceae). Unlike Poison Ivy, it is not a native species to any particular region but can be found in all parts of the world. It is one of the invasive plants with a distinguished ability to grow almost anywhere and survive very harsh conditions.

English Ivy vines can grow on tree trunks, walls, or fences, and can also grow on the ground. They make an excellent example of ground cover. Like Poison Ivy, they have adventitious/aerial roots that allow them to cling to structures, while they develop an extensive root system when growing on the ground.

The leaves of an English Ivy plant are green, rounded, and pinnately (fused) compound, and they alternate up the stem. They have prominent light green leaves with 3–5 lobes on each leaf. They have smooth leaf margins, are occasionally glossy, and do not change colors during autumn or winter, unlike Poison Ivy.

English Ivy produces white, tightly clustered flowers which begin flowering in spring. The flowers also give rise to fruits. These fruits are blueish-black when mature (a keen resemblance to berries) and they are toxic to both humans and birds, so they are not edible. Ivy fruits persist throughout winter.

The English Ivy is also a woody perennial, but it remains an evergreen plant throughout each season, which means its appearance doesn’t change with the seasons, unlike Poison Ivy. Its development is usually classified into two stages because of this distinct feature:

· Immature/Juvenile Stage

Typically, the first ten years of development are spent in this stage. The plant manifests as a vine growing on the ground with light green compound leaves, having 3-5 lobes on each leaf. The white veins on the leaves are also very prominent in this stage.

English Ivy leaves in their juvenile stage.

· Mature Stage

When exposed to enough light, the plants start to mature, grow larger, evergreen vines, and can climb vertical surfaces. The leaves become rounded and much larger than they are in their juvenile stage, and they develop a dark green color. The plants will also produce flowers and fruits in this stage.

Mature English Ivy leaves. The plant develops blueish-black fruits in this stage.

Home Growth And Care: English Ivy or Poison Ivy?

Now that we know the differences between the two plants, let’s explore the possibility of these plants being grown at home, and which (if not both) of these plants will fit our indoor and gardening purposes.

Both plants pass as ornamentals ( poison ivy in autumn and English ivy as ground cover), but both plants are also toxic to humans. Let’s take a look at their poisonous properties:

« Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is toxic throughout each season. It contains an oil called urushiol in almost all parts of the plant. If this oil comes in contact with the human body, it triggers a response by the immune system, and the resulting reaction between the immune system and urushiol eventually causes rashes and/or blisters. Not everyone is susceptible to this, but about 75% of humans are, so it’s very important to wear protective clothing whenever handling poison ivy.

« English Ivy

English Ivy causes Dermatitis Venenata, or allergic contact dermatitis, which causes severe skin irritation when you come into contact with its leaves, stem, or roots. This is because of the presence of two allergens: falcarinol, and didehydrofalcarinol, which are powerful skin irritants. They cause an allergic reaction when they react with amino or protein groups in the skin. A protective covering is therefore also necessary when handling English ivy.

Both plants are dangerous, but English Ivy takes the win when it comes to being used as a common ornamental plant. This is because it has advantages. For example, when planted outdoors, the plant makes for an attractive ground cover, and can also be used to beautify and insulate vertical surfaces.

Another advantage of Ivy is that it can be used for medicinal uses. It can be used orally as a herbal medicine for respiratory (lung and bronchial) problems, for liver problems, and can be used for anti-inflammatory purposes as well.

English Ivy can also be used as an indoor houseplant. It helps to purify the air, does not require much water, and only needs partial shade to grow. It’s very important to control the growth of the plant in any situation, however, and to wear protective clothing when doing so.

Things To Note:

English Ivy can pass as an indoor or outdoor plant, but Poison Ivy cannot. Do not grow Poison Ivy in or around your home.

There are many other types of plants that can provide the same beautification effect as English Ivy, which are completely harmless. Some of the best plants in this category are pothos plants, which come from a similar family to English Ivy, and also grow as vines. Examples are the Hawaiian pothos, the Njoy pothos, and the golden pothos plants. They are also otherwise called the Devil’s Ivy.

For more on pothos plants, click

Thriving Tips For The Golden Pothos; This care manual has all the details required to successfully grow a Golden Pothos. The Golden Pothos is an indoor plant that thrives nicely and has magnificent variegation. 

Additionally, it is of the easiest indoor plants to maintain, making it a great choice for novices. It favors warm temperatures, high humidity, somewhat dry soil, and indirect sunlight. Read more on all the information necessary to cultivate a golden Pothos here. 

Furthermore, The hows, whys, and whens of everything your Njoy Pothos needs to stay healthy are covered in this in-depth care manual.

Poison Ivy and English Ivy: Their Control, Removal, and Prevention

This part will cover everything you need to know if you’re having unwanted growth of Poison or English Ivy and want to get rid of them. Eradicating the plants requires special care, both on your part as the eradicator as well as the method involved in the eradication.

Poison Ivy


  • Poison Ivy is spread to foreign locations by certain bird species that migrate with seasonal changes. When birds eat the white fruits the Poison Ivy plant produces, they swallow the seeds and deposit them in areas where they nest after migration. This allows the plant to start growing in a new area.
  • If you do not stay in a native habitat or county of Poison Ivy (North America) and you’re seeing its growth near you, check for bird nests on or around your home. Removing or relocating these nests can keep the poison ivy seeds away.


  • Do not use chemical treatments, contact or system herbicides, weed whackers, or fire for removal. Chemicals can harm the trees or other plants in the area, weed whackers break the plant and release the toxic oil inside, while fire spreads the oil through its smoke.
  • The safest method of removal for Poison Ivy is to use a pruning stick. It is important not to get too close to the plant, and pruning sticks help you achieve this distance. When cutting, be sure to cut the plant right at the base (where it comes out from the ground).
  • You can also remove the plant manually by uprooting it (pulling it out), but if you’re going to use this method, make sure the first thing you do is wear disposable gloves and protective clothing. It’s always a good idea to not touch your face or any part of your body during and after removing all the plants.


« Urushiol, the toxic oil in Poison Ivy can stay on materials for a long time (months) after use. Wash all materials used immediately after with soap and cold water. Wash your hands and/or your body with cold water as well. Unlike warm or hot water, cold water seals your pores and prevents oil from penetrating your skin.

« You can also use rubbing alcohol to clean your implements after use. The alcohol breaks down the oil compound.

« For best results in preventing reemergence, you can either dispose of the cut plants with the trash or leave them outside to decompose. Do not burn them. Burning lets urushiol get into the smoke produced by fire and inhaling that smoke can cause fatal respiratory problems.

English Ivy: Why Control?

If left unchecked, the dense foliage of English Ivy as ground cover can serve as a hiding place for rodents, rats, and other small mammals and insects. Pieces of trash can also be easily buried under its cover.

When it grows on tree trunks, unchecked growth can let the Ivy engulf the tree. The vines also block the tree bark from air and microorganisms, and the weight of the vines is capable of breaking the branches or even toppling the tree completely (especially in situations of disease or heavy storms).

English Ivy can also serve as a reservoir for a disease called bacterial leaf scorch. It can damage home infrastructure as well as trees.


  • Their seeds are not dispersed by birds or insects, but the plants are usually purchased for either ground cover, beautification, or indoor growth. They become a problem when left to proliferate. It is very important to control English Ivy in its early stages.

Removal: For vines on trees trunks and vertical surfaces:

  • Manual removal by cutting or clipping is the best method. You can use a pruning stick as well. Cut the vines where they are at about the same height as your chest, and then strip them down to the bottom of the tree.
  • Remove all the Ivy growth around the base of the tree trunk. This cuts off the root’s supply and ivy growth higher up in trees will die naturally over time. The vine can also be cut using a handsaw if the main stem is too thick. Be careful not to injure the tree.

For proliferated growth of ground cover:

  • Always wear disposable gloves and protective clothing first. When dealing with ground Ivy, you might have to get in closer than you will for vines on vertical surfaces. Use clippers to cut the plants from the roots, and then remove the roots from the ground.
  • You can uproot them manually with your hands as well, but be sure that your hands and the rest of your body are well covered beforehand.


Poison Ivy and English Ivy are toxic plants, and it’s important to take proper care if you find yourself getting involved with them for any reason. If you aren’t confident in the safety of these two plants and would like to see safer varieties for indoor growth, click this link.

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