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Poison Ivy Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Tiffany Donald

Tiffany has taught Special Education and First Year Experience on the collegiate level. She holds a master's degree in education and in religion.

Did you know that there's a plant out there that looks innocent but, when touched, can give you an itchy rash? It's called poison ivy, and this lesson will teach you about the plant and how to spot it in nature.

What Is Poison Ivy?

Have you ever heard the saying Leaves of three, leave them be? What about One, two, three. Don't touch me? These helpful little rhymes help teach you not to touch poison ivy. Poison ivy is a three-leafed plant that, when you touch it, causes your skin to get really itchy and form a rash.

Poison ivy can cause a red, itchy rash.
Poison Ivy and a Rash

The reason why you can get a rash is because these plants have a substance called urushiol (pronounced yoo-ROO-shee-ol). Another word for this oily chemical, which has no color or smell, is resin. Poison ivy leaves release urushiol when the plant gets 'injured,' meaning that you may have torn or bumped it. When the oil is released, it can make the plant look shiny or speckled with black dots. When the oil comes in contact with your skin, it usually causes the allergic reaction that gives you an itchy rash.

What's even more amazing is that you can get this rash without actually touching the plant. Urushiol can be transferred from one person to the other. Even your family dog or cat that likes to roam outside can bring the substance back and get it on your skin. Urushiol can even move through the air if, for example, someone burns it while clearing away brush.

How to Identify Poison Ivy

To spot poison ivy, you should look out for plants with three leaves. There are also other characteristics that can help you tell the difference between poison ivy and other plants:

  • Each leaf has a pointed tip.
  • The leaves are usually green but can change colors to red or orange, depending on the time of year.
  • The plant can grow on either a vine or shrub, or it can be an individual plant. The vine is often hairy so a helpful phrase to remember is Hair vine, no friend of mine!
  • Poison ivy can grow small white or cream-colored berries in the springtime, and the berries usually stay on the plant through the winter. Remember this helpful saying: Berries white, danger in sight!

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