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How to identify poison oak; Deviations from the poisonous green plant

Many plants are equally toxic to humans and animals, which is why it is important to identify them before it’s too late.

While most people venture outside to enjoy the warm weather, knowing how to spot and avoid poison oak can help avoid headaches and itchy red rashes.

So make sure you know where to look and what to look for, before those restorative hikes become your summer ban.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “three-leaves, whatever” is a helpful old saying.

But the three-leaf rule is not hard and fast.

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On May 21, 2008, poison oak grows in the Santa Ynez Valley at Topanga State Park.
Poison oak leaves appear in vegetation in the San Gabriel Mountains of California on July 19, 2007 in the predominantly chaparral habitat of southern California.
Poison oak and ferns grow on May 21, 2008 in the Santa Ynez Valley at Topanga State Park in Los Angeles, California.

Poison oak may contain more than three leaves, and depending on the season, species and local environment, the plants may change.

Poison oak, native to the Pacific or Atlantic, is a native of the United States – primarily on the southeast and west coast – in the form of a three-leafed shrub.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, all parts of the plant, including roots, can cause an allergic reaction year-round.

Atlantic poison oak can be found on the east coast, from New Jersey to Florida and in several non-coastal states – Tennessee, Arkansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois – according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Plant Database.

Dried leaves fall among the green poison oak as fall-like colors appear in the San Gabriel Mountains.
On May 21, 2008, poison oak grows in the Santa Ynez Valley at Topanga State Park.

Pacific Poison may contain clusters of oak yellow or green flowers and greenish-yellow or white fruit. According to the National Park Service, it can grow on shrubs and vines throughout the Pacific Northwest and California.

Are poison oak and poison ivy the same? What’s the difference?

Poison oak is often confused with a poisonous green plant, but the two plants are actually slightly different.

Poison oak leaves look more rounded and irregular compared to a poisonous green plant. The poison oak plant has nine leaflets, although three leaflets are the most common. Plants grow in sun and shade in mixed evergreen forests, woodlands, chaparral and river areas.

The poisonous green plant always has three leaves, per webmd.

Poison ivy, a three-leaf plant found on June 15, 2021 at the Eddy Discovery Center in Chelsea.

The CDC recommends that wearing long sleeves, long pants, shoes, gloves and barrier skin creams can limit exposure to toxic oak. If you think you are exposed, wash the clothes separately in hot water with detergent.

Camille Fine is a trending visual producer on the USA Todays team. She loves to make pizza, photograph friends and ruin her beloved cat Pearl.

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