"Leaves of Three" is not quite right!

Leaflets 3


This website repeats the common phrase, "Leaves of three, let it be." This is a handy way to remember that poison ivy and poison oak always have a three-part leaf *. However, this annoys the heck out of botanists and educated plant lovers because, technically, it is wrong.

Poison ivy and poison oak leaves are actually compound leaves, with three leaflets

So the correct phrase should be "Leaflets three, let it be." But after stewing about it, I decided to stick with the old phrase, that, while technically wrong, will protect more people from the nasty rashes these plants cause. I can just imagine someone out in the woods, staring at a plant and trying to remember the distinction between leaves and leaflets. So we use the phrase that most people will understand rather than being technically correct. But in this blog post – I own up to it!

Life is full of these little situations where the common phrase is not right, but if you correct it, your communication effectiveness drops off. In fact, this site has another example: Somebody pointed out to me that Skin Rash Hall of Fame is redundant since rashes only happen on skin. But after pondering the "Rash Hall of Fame" I decided against it. "Rash Hall of Fame" sounds like a place where we showcase people who acted rashly, which is not what it is about. Well, not exactly. Some people with a Hall of Fame skin rash DID act in rash fashion... this is getting too confusing. Time to sign off.

* Pacific poison oak, the stuff that plagues California, does very occasionally have more than three... leaflets. But that's for another blog.