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How to Tell Virginia Creeper From Poison Ivy

Making It Grow Minute
SC Public Radio

Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. Many people have trouble telling poison ivy and Virginia creeper apart., Both are native vines in the cashew family, both are deciduous, have compound leaves and produce berries that are an important food for birds in the winter. Poison ivy, however, has three leaflets per leaf, leaves of three –- leave it be -- while Virginia creeper has five leaflets and is actually quite pretty and  planted frequently for beauty and erosion control.   Poison ivy contains a compound called urushiol that causes a blistering rash that itches like the dickens in most people; a bad case requires a trip to the doctor for steroids. Most people can handle Virginia creeper without harm but it’s leaves do contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause a painful reaction in some people. Check out Clemson HGIC poison ivy for a really good factsheet.

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.