Poison Oak Photos - Is It Poison Oak or Not?

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Poison Oak Photos - Is It Poison Oak or Not?

Poison oak growing on street corner in Pacific Grove, California
Poison oak growing on street corner in Pacific Grove, California. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Is that plant poison oak or not? Poison oak is a great imitator. Its leaves take on the shape of those nearby. After a couple of bouts of poison oak, you will have incentive to become an expert at spotting it along the trail, road, and in your own backyard.

Is It Poison Oak? Leaves of Three, Let it Be

The one thing that doesn't vary is the pattern of three leaflets branching from a single, independent stem. Two leaves are attached directly to the stalk opposite each other. The third leaf juts out from them at a right angle, so the 3-leaf pattern forms a triangle. There are no additional leaves on the same stalk.

The leaves may be serrated, round, or oak-like depending on what other foliage is around the poison oak plants. They may be shiny, or not. They may have a red tinge, or not. Be wary, or you're in for a week of itchy torture.

The plant itself may be seen as single stalks close to the gound with three leaves. Or a bush. Or a vine climbing a tree. Most photos here were taken on one trail, with the plants growing in a variety of ways.

Even if you live in an area where poison oak grows everywhere, you may not know which plants are poison oak is and which are not.

This photo is an example of poison oak growing profusely, almost as a hedge. You might think it was just another shrub as you passed by it at the street corner. This poison oak has rounder leaves rather than oak-shaped leaves, so you might not immediately think it is poison oak. But if you see that it has three leaves (and only three leaves) on each stem, that is your signal that it is poison oak

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Oak-Shaped Leaves on Poison Oak

Oak-Shaped Leaves on Poison Oak
Oak-Shaped Leaves on Poison Oak. Wendy Bumgardner ©

This poison oak plant shows oak-shaped leaves. But they are in the characteristic leaves-of-three pattern for poison oak rather than oak. Leave it be!

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Round Leaves on Poison Oak

Poison Oak with Rounded Leaves
Poison Oak with Rounded Leaves. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Round-shaped leaves on this poison oak plant imitate nearby trees. But it has the distinctive leaves-of-three pattern. Let it be!

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Shiny Poison Oak Leaves

Poison Oak - Leaves of Three
Poison Oak - Leaves of Three. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Poison oak may look oily and shiny. The toxic oil is what will give you the rash. But the leaves don't have to look shiny to do their evil. Let it be!​

If you come into contact with the leaves, here are products to remove the poison oak toxic oil and, hopefully, prevent the rash.​ The good news is that it isn't contagious, except when spread by the oil remaining on your garments, gear, or skin.

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Poison Oak in Bloom

Poison Oak in Bloom
Poison Oak in Bloom. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Poison oak blooms are small white flowers, which may develop into greenish or tan berries.

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Red Poison Oak Leaves in Autumn

Red Poison Oak in Autumn
Red Poison Oak in Autumn. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Poison oak leaves may turn a brilliant red in autumn as the bush dies back. Do not collect these leaves for decorations!

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Poison Oak - the Imitator

Poison Oak Imitates Nearby Leaves
Poison Oak Imitates Nearby Leaves. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Here the poison oak leaves are taking on the round shape of the bush next to it.

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Poison Oak and Blackberry Vines

Poison Oak with Blackberry Vine
Poison Oak with Blackberry Vine. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Blackberry vines may appear to have only three leaves but usually have five. They also develop thorns.

Poison oak will only have three leaves on a stem, and the stem does not have any thorns. If it is next to blackberries, the shape of the leaves will imitate blackberry.

Poison oak is on the left and blackberry is on the right. Look closely at the stem for thorns on the blackberry vines.

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Not Poison Oak - Maple Leaves

Maple Leaves - Not Poison Oak
Maple Leaves - Not Poison Oak. Wendy Bumgardner ©

These are maple leaves. They are not poison oak. The large leaves have three major lobes and two minor ones.

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Oak - Not Poison Oak

Oak - Not Poison Oak
Oak - Not Poison Oak. Wendy Bumgardner ©

These oak-like leaves are probably oak, and definitely not poison oak. They are in a whorl of five leaves rather than a triangle of three leaves.

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Round Leaves Not Poison Oak

Vine with Round Leaves
Vine with Round Leaves - Not Poison Oak. Wendy Bumgardner ©

This bush has round leaves not in groups of three. It's not poison oak, but any poison oak next to it will imitate the round leaves.

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Poison Oak or Not?

Poison Oak or Blackberry?
Poison Oak or Blackberry?. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Blackberry or poison oak? The three-leaf pattern is like poison oak. If there are any thorns on the stem, it is more likely to be blackberry. Better safe than sorry - leave it be!

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Shiny But Not Poison Oak - Oregon Grape

Shiny Oregon Grape - Not Poison Oak
Shiny Oregon Grape - Not Poison Oak. Wendy Bumgardner ©

This is the state flower of Oregon, Oregon Grape. It's shiny, but the leaf pattern is all wrong for it to be poison oak. It has more than three leaves per stalk.

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Red Oregon Grape Not Poison Oak

Red Oregon Grape - Not Poison Oak
Red Oregon Grape - Not Poison Oak. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Some people identify poison oak by its red color in autumn. But here, Oregon Grape is imitating red poison oak. It has more leaves than three per stem.

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Poison Oak Close-up

Poison Oak
Poison Oak. Ed Reschke/Creative RF/Getty Images

This classic poison oak can make you itchy just looking at it. But looking won't give you a rash, touching it or being exposed to its smoke if it burns will transmit the toxic oil.

To avoid getting a poison oak rash, the first step is not coming into contact with the leaves. However, it is not always possible to avoid it. In those cases, be prepared with these ​products to prevent poison oak and ivy rash that can remove the toxic oil.

If you manage to get a rash, here's how to treat it.

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