Plants that look like poison sumac are numerous, and we are sure that you will be able to distinguish between the look-alikes by the end of this article.

Adding Similar Looking but Safe Plants to Your Garden

Some of these look-alikes are poisonous plants, while the rest are not. Continue reading to learn the common characteristics of these plants and so much more!

Some Plants That Look Like Poison Sumac

1. Poison Ivy

The ivy is a perennial woody plant that is a member of the Anacardiaceae family and is native to Eastern North America. It grows as a vine or a small shrub creeping on the ground or mounting on low-growing plants, poles, and trees. 

It has three glossy leaves that are either smooth or have tooth-like edges. They change color with the change in seasons: green in summer, red in spring, and yellow to red in autumn. It occasionally blooms with white-hued flowers.

The point contains oil in the sap that causes itching and redness when it touches the skin. It may take a good few hours to several days for the symptoms to appear. 

– Growing Season

It is mostly seen growing in spring and summer but also in fall and winter. The plant has a fast growth rate, further increasing with every decade.

Poison Ivy Plants in the Forest 1

It is between one to two feet tall and can be three to twelve feet long when it climbs onto something.

– Specific Needs

The woody plant thrives in part-shade and acidic soils and those less in selenium, calcium, and phosphorus content. It needs about one cup of water every nine days to keep the soil consistently moist and not soggy. 

It propagates through seeds dispersed by carriers like birds and animals. The plant can also reproduce vegetatively through vines and root crowns.

Furthermore, it also self-propagates underground through rhizomes. The ivy needs to be repotted every year or when it doubles in size. Add fresh potting soil to fulfill all nutrient needs and minimize fertilizer needs.

2. Poison Oak

The oak is a perennial vine or a shrub that belongs to the Anacardiaceae family and is native to California. It grows as a low shrub in the Southern and Eastern regions of the country, and on the Pacific Coast, it develops as long vines.

It bears three fuzzy green leaves in clusters that are either lobed or toothed with rounded edges. They change from green with red hues when young to vibrant green or red in the fall. It may bear berries that are yellow to white. 

The perennial oozes an oil-like substance when broken in half from the leaves or stem. It may cause itching and rash, but it can take up to many days for the symptoms to become prominent.

– Growing Season

The plant shows off its leafy clock in spring, near February and March. It has a fast growth rate that allows covering your favorite spot within a matter of two months.

Poison Oak Showing Fresh Growth

A mature plant can be between three to six feet in height and has an average life expectancy of five years.

– Specific Needs

Full sun allows the plant to have a dense volume. The soil needs to be acidic yet moist for the plant to thrive. Water the plant once every ten days to keep the soil wet and not soggy.

The oak can be propagated in three different ways. It grows vegetatively from rhizomes, can reproduce from root crowns, and has the ability to grow from seeds as well. Any fertilizer rich in nitrogen content boosts the oak tree’s growth and is responsible for the fresh green leaves. 

3. Virginia Creeper

Virginia creeper is a perennial vine that belongs to the Vitaceae, also known as the grape family, and is native to the Eastern and Central United States. It is also known as five-leaved ivy and is mostly used for ground-covering purposes or as a climbing vine for stone walls. 

The leaves are compound and mostly have five leaflets, sometimes even three. It is quite convenient to identify the plant as it seems to give the onlookers a high five!

In its initial stages, the plant is red and progresses to green as it matures. The foliage changes back to reddish-maroon with the onset of autumn. It can cause a rash but not as severe as the other poisonous plants.

– Growing Season

It is planted in spring or fall and has a fast growth rate. The huge plant can be anywhere between thirty to fifty feet in height! It grows vigorously and can become invasive if not dealt with with the same vigor. Furthermore, it blooms in summer with greenish-white flowers. 

The Beauty of Virginia Creeper

– Specific Needs

The plant does not have many sun needs; sunlight from full to none is enough for the plant to thrive. The soil needs to be sandy, clay, or loamy with a neutral to acidic pH. 

Virginia creeper is a fast grower and responds quicker when propagated from cuttings. Find a healthy stem around 12 inches and remove the leaves at the bottom third.

Dipping the stem in a rooting hormone speeds up the process. Place the end exposed to the rooting hormone in high-quality potting soil, at least 3 inches deep.

The soil needs to be kept damped and not anywhere near soggy. Water the plant regularly in the first growing season and occasionally when the roots have established. However, you should check on your plant during the dry spells.

Keep another pot ready for transplanting in just a few weeks. You can tell that the roots have established when the resistance of the cutting against a gentle tug. The whole process takes about a month, from propagation to transplanting. 

The plant appreciates a general-purpose fertilizer once a year in spring. You can add granular fertilizer to the soil as well. Prune the vines in winter or in early spring to control their growth. Please remove any detached, dead, or diseased vines, as they can no longer attach to the surface. 

4. Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant Sumac is a deciduous shrub that is a member of the Anacardiaceae family and is native to Southern Canada and the Southern United States. Like Virginia Creeper, Fragrant Sumac is used for ground-covering purposes. 

It consists of compound leaves with three leaflets that have a greenish-blue shade. The plant is most attractive in autumn when the foliage changes to red and purple.

The plant grows into a compact and dense tree with whitish to yellowish berries. The female plant produces red and hairy fruits normally consumed by birds and small mammals. 

– Growing Season

The plant’s growing season of interest includes mid to late spring, all summer and fall, and blooms in March and April. It is not as tall as the other similar-looking plants as it grows up between three to five feet when it has matured.

Photographic Exploration of its Scent 1

– Specific Needs

This Sumac prefers partial to full sun exposure and adapts to any soil with an acidic to nearly alkaline pH. 

Propagating the plant through seeds takes a lot of time and effort so let’s focus on the easiest method possible.

A hassle-free and quick way of reproducing the place is through semi-hardwood cuttings, and the best time to take them is between summer and fall. The cutting must be 6 inches below the node, and remove all the leaves.

Place the cutting in a rooting hormone for a minute and then plant it into a vermiculite in the hole. Leave the plant somewhere dark and cool while keeping the soil damp, and monitor closely for signs of root growth. 

Adding fertilizer to the plant depends on what you want your plant to look like. To show off the attractive foliage, fertilize it with the NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) fertilizer. Furthermore, The plant is drought-tolerant, meaning it can also survive in low-moisture environments. 

5. Skunkbush Sumac

Skunkbush Sumac is an erect deciduous shrub that belongs to the Anacardiaceae family and is native to Western Canada and the United States and south through Arizona, extending well into northern Mexico. 

The leaves are composed of three toothed, glossy, deep-green leaflets that turn to colors of yellow, orange, and red in fall. They give off a sweet fragrance when crushed by hands.

The plant is used in places screaming for soil erosion control. Like Fragrant Sumac, the female plant produces red berries that get consumed by birds and various small mammals in no time.

– Growing Season

The plant’s growing seasons of interest include mid to late spring, most of the summer, and fall.

Skunkbush Sumac Fruits in Summer

It has a fast growth rate and can be between three to eight feet in height and the same width. They are also used as hedges or screens because of the dense volume.

– Specific Needs

It thrives well in full to partial sunlight and loamy, sandy, well-drained soils without having much preference for the soil’s pH. You can see it thriving in infertile rocky soils too.

The plant reproduces much faster through rhizomes, leaving you with colonies in no time. It is propagated through various ways; treated seeds, root cuttings, softwood cuttings taken in late spring or early summer, and separating suckers from the parent plant. 

Watering the plant about one cup every nine days is sufficient when it is not exposed to direct sunlight; otherwise, the plant does not have many watering needs as it is drought-tolerant. It also withstands floods and high water tables. Fertilizing your plant every few years is enough to keep it happy and thriving. 

6. Boxelder

A hardy perennial that belongs to the Sapindaceae family and is native to the central and eastern United States. It has an average life expectancy of seventy-eight years and can live up to a hundred years.

The leaves grow in opposite directions and are compounded with three, five, or seven leaflets. Each leaflet is ovate with a pointed tip and a rounded base and normally toothed at the edges. They are light green and smooth on the top and pale green at the bottom. The leaflets are up to 4 inches long.

Boxelder is used for ground-covering purposes, protecting the streambanks, and creating shade for the livestock.

– Growing Season

Boxelder is planted and transplanted in the fall, right after defoliation. It is a fast-growing maple tree between thirty to fifty feet in height and the same width.

Boxelder Maple Branch with Leaves

The plant bears yellow-green flowers that bloom with the leaves and are not more than a quarter of an inch in diameter. The male and female flowers develop on distinct stems and in different configurations.

– Specific Needs

The plant needs to be kept in shaded areas as direct sunlight causes the leaves to wilt, but this condition changes with the growth. It does not have extensive soil preferences but adapts well to well-drained and rich soils that are slightly acidic. 

Common ways of propagating Boxelder include grafting, softwood cuttings, and sowing seeds. The most used way of propagation is grafting, and cuttings take the longest time to propagate—sowing seeds propagation method to create new varieties.

Boxelder has shallow roots and needs frequent watering in summer. In the case of some varieties, spraying water on the plants just enough to maintain a humid environment is sufficient for the plants to survive. 

Furthermore, it has low fertilizing needs. And a slow-release fertilizer should be added only when the plant is not behaving at its best. 

7. Winged Sumac

Winged Sumac is an ornamental shrub that belongs to the same family as the before-mentioned look-alike plants, the Anacardiaceae family.

It is local to the central and eastern United States. It is also known as Shining Sumac and Flameleaf Sumac and has a short lifespan, allowing it to live for a maximum of fifty years.

It has feather-compound leaves arranged alternately and is between 5 and 12 inches long. The leaflets have pointed tips and can be as few as seven and as many as seventeen.

The leaflets’ upper surface is shiny and dark green, the lower side is hairy and paler, and the margin is usually toothless. A sticky sap oozes out of the leaves and stalks when broken in half. It is usually used for naturalizing dry and barren spots.

– Growing Season

The growing season of interest starts in the mid-late summer and lasts till fall. It has a fast growth rate that allows it to grow one foot per growing season. Typically, it is seven to fifteen feet in height and ten to twenty feet wide. It blooms pale yellow flowers, approximately 4 to 8 inches long, from late May till July. 

Sumac Flower and Leaf with Blue Sky

– Specific Needs

It is a full-sun lover but can tolerate partial shade as well. The soil needs to be loamy or sandy with no acidic or alkaline pH condition.

Winged Sumac can be propagated in three ways: sowing, dividing, and cutting. However, propagating through cutting is the most effective way. Cut branches up to fifteen to twenty centimeters long and insert them in the soil. This method ensures a fast growth rate and keeps the good characteristics of the parent tree locked in. 

The plant can tolerate drought to some extent but absolutely displeases standing water, so make sure to water it enough to keep the soil damp. Another way of maintaining the soil’s moisture is by enclosing the tree’s base with snow. 

The Sumac can survive in poor soil but for sure appreciate an adequate amount of fertilizer for a boost in growth. Add NPK fertilizer in early summer to promote flowering and organic fertilizer in fall to help the plant survive winter.

However, avoid adding too much fertilizer at once as it reduces the plant’s ability to ward off pests, diseases, and other similar problems, like frost, in winter. 


Poison Sumac is known for its rash-causing ability. If you are fond of the plant but are reluctant to plant it, you can always plant some similar-looking plants and get the job done.

Whatever you decide to grow, always remember the following points from the article above:

  • Anything with the name poison needs to be avoided to prevent rash.
  • If you are looking for a long-life plant, look no further than Boxelder. 
  • Winged Sumac has a shorter lifespan if you are looking for a plant like that.
  • Virginia Creeper and Fragrant Sumac make excellent ground-covering plants. 
  • You can use Skunkbush Sumac to help with soil erosion. Add it to your barren and deserted land and see all the difference it makes

After discovering these similar-looking plants and their usage, which plant would you like to grow?


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