Poison Oak got its name for a reason: it can cause an unsuspecting person to get a painful rash if they are unfortunate enough to touch its leaves. Some harmless plants look like poison oak. Knowing the difference is incredibly helpful, especially if you want to avoid the real poison oak!
So, what are other plants that look like poison oak? The following plants look like poison oak or are sometimes confused with it:
- Fragrant sumac
- Virginia creeper
- Skunkbush sumac
- Poison Ivy
- Scrub Oak
- Snapdragon Vine
These plants that look like poison oak may have similar-looking stems, leaf shapes, distribution, and color. Some of these four grow naturally in the same region as poison oak, so they can easily be mistaken for it.
Poison oak is sometimes confused with poison ivy because they are both stinging plants. An oily substance on poison oak leaves called urushiol causes an allergic reaction in about 85% of people.
The most distinct feature of poison oak is that this plant has leaves that look like oak leaves. Poison oak leaves have scattered, rounded teeth or lobed edges and first present as shiny leaves that become duller as the season passes. Leaflets vary from two to eight inches long and 3⁄4 to 5 inches wide.
These plants grow as a shrub or a vine that grows on the trunk of a tree, so they are easy to tell apart from an oak tree. The leaves grow in groups at the end of a stem. A poison oak plant usually has three leaflets per group, but individual leaflets may have more.
Poison oak grows small white berries with ridges that resemble the shape of pumpkins. Flowers that grow on poison oak are greenish-yellow in color.
Poison oak occurs naturally across most of the United States. Atlantic poison oak is common in the Southeast from Texas to Florida and north to Illinois and Missouri. Pacific poison oak grows in the western seaboard states from Washington south to California.
1. Fragrant Sumac (Rhus Aromatica)
The leaves of fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) look like those of poison oak and are sometimes mistaken as such. Like poison oak, fragrant sumac has trifoliate tooth-edged leaves that grow in clusters at the end of a stem. A quick glance on a hike may leave you thinking fragrant sumac is poison oak.
Fragrant sumac leaves are green-blue but may become red or purple in the fall. Poison oak leaves also turn red in the fall and cause confusion between the two plants.
The distinguishing difference between fragrant sumac and poison oak is that a female sumac plant bears red, hairy fruits. In contrast, poison oak bears whitish or yellowish berries. Fragrant sumac also grows into groves where poison oak will grow in a more open structure.
Lastly, on closer inspection, the three leaflets of fragrant sumac attach to the stem at a single point, whereas the leaflets of poison oak are separated with the terminal leaflet on its own short stem.
2. Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus Quinquefolia)
Like poison oak, a Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a vine. Because of this, it is sometimes confused with poison oak. Like poison oak, it also has groups of leaves at the end of a stem, but on a Virginia creeper, these are grouped in three to five leaves, but most commonly five.
Unlike the rounded edge teeth of poison oak, a Virginia creeper has pointed teeth on the edge of the leaves. The leaves are also a little brighter than poison oak and are red in the autumn and when they first emerge from the plant.
The general shape and leaf clusters look similar to poison oak. Unlike poison oak, Virginia creepers are harmless. Only on rare occasions does a sensitive individual react to contact with the leaves and stems.
Related: 10 Plants That Look Like Virginia Creeper
3. Skunkbush Sumac (Rhus Trilobata)
Skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) also has leaves that look like poison oak. They are round-toothed and resemble oak leaves. They are compound leaves usually occurring in groups of three at the end of a stem.
Like fragrant sumac, however, they cluster around the stem at a single point and bear hairy red to orange fruit. When skunkbush sumac is not in fruit, a close inspection will tell the difference between these two plants. Compare skunkbush sumac to other sumac plants to identify them.
4. Boxelder (Acer Negundo)
Box elder (Acer negundo) is occasionally mistaken for poison oak when they are young plants and seedlings.
Like poison oak, boxelder seedlings have trifoliate leaves with rounded teeth on the edges. Boxelder and poison oak also both change leaf color in the fall. These are the only two similarities between the plants.
Boxelder leaves are not poisonous. The easiest way to tell a boxelder plant apart from poison oak is to note the growth pattern of the leaves. Along the stem, leaf clusters on a boxelder grow opposite each other, whereas poison oak leaves are alternating.
Related: 8 Plants That Look Like Poison Ivy
5. Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron Radicans)
While poison ivy does not look like poison oak, because both plants cause a stinging reaction when they touch the skin, some people refer to them together. Sometimes people may refer to poison oak as poison ivy and vice versa.
While they share some characteristics, they are not the same plant, but both will cause a painful reaction on the skin and should be avoided.
Both poison oak and poison ivy have lobed, or toothed leaves, but in the case of poison ivy are more likely to be smooth or pointed-toothed. The leaf edges are what tells the two plants apart most easily.
The best way to tell the two apart is that poison ivy leaves are compounds with three individual leaflets on a stem, whereas poison oak leaves grow in groups on the end of a stem.
Rather be safe and avoid plants you think may be poison oak or poison ivy altogether. If you do come into contact with poison ivy or poison oak, calamine lotion is often recommended to treat rash and itchiness, and baking soda or colloidal oatmeal is added to the bath. Antihistamines are also an effective treatment in dealing with rash and itchiness. Should neither of these ease the rash, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
6. Scrub Oak (Quercus Ilicifolia)
Scrub oak is small variant of an oak tree. It is a hardy plant that will often spring after fires. They do not usually exceed 12–20 feet in height and if found next to a larger tree it can look like poison oak.
As the leaves are oak leaves, they look similar to poison oak and their height and size can cause them to be misidentified at a quick glance.
7. Snapdragon Vine (Maurandia Artirrhiniflora)
A snapdragon vine looks similar to poison ivy. It is a slender, vining plant that is often found growing in the shade of trees. The small, triangular, pointed leaves are the inverse shape of poison oak leaves and can give the vine a similar look.
The vine does not have tendrils, further adding to the similarities between the two plants. It must rely on other plants and objects for support and so will grow similarly to that of poison oak.