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How to Spot Poison Oak in Southern California

How to Spot Poison Oak in Southern California

Knowing how to spot poison oak can save you from the rash and itches it causes. I know what poison oak looks like, so I’ve never suffered from its symptoms. 

It grew in patches all over the hillside where I grew up. My parents schooled me in identifying it and I just avoided it.

I finally snapped a photo of it at Oak Canyon Nature Center and thought I would share — so and your kids can avoid it, too.

So this is a typical scene when you are out in the “wilderness” of California: large oak trees and some scrub brush.

Those green close-to-the-ground stalks surrounding that  tree trunk are poison oak. The first thing I look for is patches

This stuff usually grows together and I can spot it from far away before I even get close enough to identify the leaves. Stay out of the patches!

Here it is again – across the creek – growing in large patches or clumps underneath the trees and up the hillside. It can be merely a foot of the ground or I’ve seen huge patches growing up to my eye level.

This is what the leaves look like up close. I can often identify them by a telltale reddish color on the leaves (like below). There’s a saying: “Leaves of three, let them be. If it’s hairy, it’s a berry.” All the photos in this post are poison oak.

Here’s a tricky thing: in the winter it goes dormant and it’s really hard to spot because the telltale leaves aren’t present, but that doesn’t mean the oils from the plant aren’t still present. They can still irritate your skin.

Scientific info on Pacific Poison-Oak from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Originally published in August 2010.

Joel Fischman

Tuesday 13th of August 2013

Please advise of a company or service that will remove Poison Oak from the slope areas near our property in Woodland Hills.

Ellen O'Neill

Thursday 20th of June 2013

I am trying to find a company that will remove Poison Oak from our back yard slope. We are tired of dealing with it as my husband keeps getting the rash when doing necessary yard maintenance. It is now closer to areas he must access. Do you know of any professionals that do removal? Thanks for any help you can provide.

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