Eastern Poison-oak (Toxicodendron pubescens) is found in sandy woods in the eastern United States from Long Island and New Jersey south to northern Florida and west to West Virginia, southern Missouri, southern Kansas, and Texas (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Poison-oak and its close relatives are well-known for possessing skin-irritating oil (urushiol), which can cause severe allergic reactions in humans.
The taxonomy and nomenclature of North American Toxicodendron has been in flux for over a century, largely due to confusing within-species variation in growth form, leaf and leaflet shape, and other features (e.g., Gillis 1971; Gartner 1991). This has resulted in an abundance of synonyms, but five species are now generally recognized: Common Poison-ivy (T. radicans), Western Poison-ivy (T. rydbergii), Eastern Poison-oak (T. pubescens), Western Poison-oak (T. diversilobum), and Poison-sumac (T. vernix) (Senchina 2006). Eastern Poison-oak is a suberect shrub, usually not exceeding 1 m in height, with 3-leafleted leave. Petioles (leaf stalks) and young fruits are pubescent (hairy) and leaflets and their lobes or teeth are mostly blunt. (Gleason and Cronquist 1991).
Senchina (2008) reviewed the literature on animal and fungal associates of Toxicodendron in North America with a particular eye toward identifying potential biological control agents. Interest in finding new ways to control poison-ivy and its relatives may increase in coming years given data suggesting that these plants may become more abundant and more ‘‘toxic’’ in the future, potentially affecting global forest dynamics and human health (Mohan et al. 2006).
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Texas, and north to southeastern Kansas .
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
14 Great Plains
Occurrence in North America
NJ NC OK SC TN TX VA WV
Atlantic poison-oak is a native, rhizomatous, deciduous shrub . It
has slender, erect stems that are woody for 20 to 24 inches (50-60 cm)
, and are not over 3 feet (1 m) tall. The trifoliate leaves are
oak-like in appearance with three to seven lobes . Many authors
report that the leaves are more leathery than those of eastern
poison-ivy; however, Gillis  stated that this is a variable
character. The flowers are produced in dense panicles 1 to 3 inches
(2.5-7.6 cm) long. The fruit is a hard, reniform-globose or
depressed-globose drupe [8,20]. Unlike its congener eastern poison-ivy,
it is not a climber, nor does it produce aerial roots .
Key Plant Community Associations
Atlantic poison-oak is seldom abundant . It occurs in open woodlands
of various mixtures: longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)-scrub oak (Quercus
spp.), pine (Pinus spp.)-hardwood, and second-growth hardwood . It
is found most often in scrub oak and pine woodland savannas with an
understory of ericaceous shrubs and bunchgrasses including threeawn
(Aristida spp.), needlegrass (Stipa spp.), and bluestem (Andropogon
spp.) . Atlantic poison-oak occurs under loblolly pine (P. taeda)
plantations in Louisiana . It is listed as an associated species in
a big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)-kochia (Kochia scoparia)-common
sunflower (Helianthus annuus) community that occurs in Kansas. Other
associates in that community include western ragweed (Ambrosia
psilostachya), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), lambsquarters
(Chenopodium album), and sedge (Carex spp.) . In Alabama, eastern
poison-oak is reported from a community in the Bee Branch Gorge Research
Natural Area which represents the southernmost limit of eastern hemlock
(Tsuga canadensis). Tree associates of Atlantic poison-oak in this
community include eastern hemlock and American beech (Fagus
grandifolia). Understory associates include muscadine grape (Vitis
rotundifolia) and cane (Arundinaria gigantea) .
Atlantic poison-oak is seldom associated with other members of its genus
because of differences in soil requirements .
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the term: hardwood
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
43 Bear oak
45 Pitch pine
46 Eastern redcedar
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine - scrub oak
72 Southern scrub oak
76 Shortleaf pine - oak
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
. It is largely confined to sandy soils of low fertility on the
Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains. Soils are most often coarse sands that
are low in calcium, magnesium, and potassium .
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K076 Blackland prairie
K081 Oak savanna
K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100
K084 Cross Timbers
K086 Juniper - oak savanna
K088 Fayette prairie
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K115 Sand pine scrub
Immediate Effect of Fire
No specific information on Atlantic poison-oak mortality or top-kill due
to fire was available in the literature. It is likely that, given its
small stature, Atlantic poison-oak is easily top-killed by even
low-intensity surface fires. It is likely to survive such fires and
sprout from rhizomes.
Atlantic poison-oak occurs in the understory of open woods, particularly
in the longleaf pine, loblolly pine, and scrub oak types [8,9]. The
open condition of these communities is maintained by fire.
Historically, fires in these communities occurred frequently (intervals
from 3 to 20 years) and were usually low-intensity surface fires. It is
likely that Atlantic poison-oak is able to survive low-intensity surface
fires by sprouting from rhizomes if top-killed. In Texas, eastern
poison-oak is a common understory plant in a dry, upland longleaf pine
savanna which has been maintained by periodic prescribed fire (burned at
3- to 5-year intervals) .
Vegetative reproduction in Atlantic poison-oak is accomplished by the
formation of clones via rhizomes . The intervals at which aerial
stems are produced from rhizomes are greater than the intervals observed
for eastern poison-ivy .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Fire Management Considerations
soot particles when the plant is burned and causes dermatitis on persons
working in areas where Atlantic poison-oak is burned . The smoke can
injure lungs. Reports of ill effects from exposure to the smoke of
burning eastern poison-ivy or poison-oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)
include head-to-toe dermatitis, fever, lung infections, and even death
caused by the throat swelling up . It is likely that under similar
burning conditions and plant densities, smoke from Atlantic poison-oak
could cause the same problems. Atlantic poison-oak, however, has not
been reported at anywhere near the same densities encountered for either
eastern poison-ivy or poison-oak.
Plant Response to Fire
burned annually between 1963 and 1988. Years and duration of its
occurrence were not reported; the authors stated only that it "occurred
widely across the years". Atlantic poison-oak was also present on plots
that were burned periodically (1964 and 1969) but disappeared from these
plots after 1972 .
Facultative Seral Species
Atlantic poison-oak is probably not tolerant of heavy shade . In
Louisiana, Atlantic poison-oak production was highest under loblolly pine
plantations that had been lightly thinned, and lowest under similar
plantations that had been heavily thinned .
Life History and Behavior
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
dermatitis in susceptible individuals . A skin test has been
developed to determine individual sensitivity to uroshiol. Other work
is in progress to develop preventative treatments for sensitive
Atlantic poison-oak can be controlled by a number of herbicides [10,11].
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
Rhus toxicodendron occurred with 1 percent frequency on 10-year-old,
unreclaimed lignite mine sites. It occurred at 15 percent frequency on
30-year-old sites, and 67 percent on 60-year-old sites. It was not
found on sites less than 10 years old, but did occur on undisturbed
adjacent sites at 3 percent frequency. It is not clear from this
article whether the reference is to eastern poison-ivy or to eastern
Other uses and values
used to make indelible ink . It is likely that Atlantic poison-oak
has been used for the same purposes.
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
reported in the literature, although Blair  listed it as palatable
browse for white-tailed deer. Eastern poison-ivy, a closely related
species, is browsed by white-tailed deer, and its fruits are consumed by
61 species of wildlife .
Toxicodendron pubescens, commonly known as Atlantic poison oak (syn. Rhus pubescens), is an upright shrub that can grow to 1 m (3 ft) tall. Its leaves are 15 cm (6 in) long, alternate, with three leaflets on each. The leaflets are usually hairy and are variable in size and shape, but most often resemble white oak leaves; they usually turn yellow or orange in autumn. The fruit is small, round, and yellowish or greenish. It is not closely related to true oaks.
Atlantic poison oak can be found growing in forests, thickets, and dry, sandy fields.
All parts of this plant contain urushiol, which can cause severe dermatitis in sensitive individuals. The risk of exposure may be reduced by learning to recognize and avoid this species and wearing clothing that covers the legs and arms. Contaminated clothing should be laundered before subsequent handling or use.
Effects of poison oak are similar to those of poison ivy. It first causes severe itching, evolves into inflammation, non-colored bumps, and then blistering when scratched.
Names and Taxonomy
Atlantic poison oak
Rhus toxicarium Salisb. 
Toxicodendron toxicodendron (L.) Britt. 
Toxicodendron toxicarium (Salisb.) Gillis [8,9]
Toxicodendron quercifolium (Michx.) Greene [8,20]
Toxicodendron pubescens Miller (Anacardiaceae) [21,24,25]. This
taxon is often confused in the literature with eastern poison-ivy (T.
radicans), with which it has shared the synonym Rhus toxicodendron.
The possibility of hybridization between Atlantic poison-oak and other
Toxicodendron species is limited due to differences in habitat. Atlantic
poison-oak forms occasional hybrids with eastern poison-ivy where their
ranges overlap .
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