"Leaves Three, Quickly Flee, Leaves Five, Stay and Thrive."
Or maybe you learned: "Leaves of Three, Let it Be" . . . in either case the advice is well taken. Unless you're in the fortunate 15% of the population that isn't affected by poison ivy or its cousins, poison oak and poison sumac. They all contain an oil, urushiol(pronounced oo-roo-shee-ohl) that can cause rashes, blisters and itching within a few hours or up to 2 weeks that may look like this. . .
Poison Ivy is common and pervasive in New England.
It grows pretty much anywhere and can be a free-standing shrub, a ropelike vine growing up a tree or a trailing shrub or vine along the ground. It usually has three leaflets attached to the same stem but may have more. They are often a glossy, bright green but may be dull, and sometimes colors other than green, especially reddish green.
NOTE: In the Spring, as poison ivy begins to leaf out again, it first presents as minuscule dark reddish leaflets (still "Leaves of Three"), usually with a quite glossy surface. (There are a lot of reddish leaves in the spring so don't automatically equate red with poison ivy.) As the leaves get larger, they change color to reddish/green to light green and eventually reaching their fill size and color for the summer - usually medium to dark green. The glossy sheen usually seen in early spring may change to a lustre or even a flat matte 4-6 weeks after first appearing. (5/7/13 - Thank you Amy C for texting me a pic which reminded me I hadn't really addressed the Spring poison ivy differences.)
When Can I 'Get' Poison Ivy? You can be exposed any time of the year but less likely in the winter when the leaves have dried up and fallen to the ground. You can still 'catch' it in the winter from the stems of plants whether on the ground or growing up a tree. Unfortunately, there are no "Leaves of Three" to see in the winter so you need to know where you are at all times, hopefully in reference to a summer visit. Mature vines growing up trees are still easily identified by their 'hair' (see photo above) but the poison ivy stems sticking up through the snow look just like any other twig.
How Can I 'Get' Poison Ivy?
You get a reaction to poison ivy when you your skin comes in contact with urushiol, the oil in the leaves, vines, stems and roots of poison ivy and it's menacing cousins. Physical contact is needed. Just being near them does not spread the irritant.
The exposure for the hands picture above was from some beautiful green and white berries on vines collected for Christmas decorations.
Playing with a dog that has brushed against a poison ivy plant - thankfully, man's best friend isn't usually affected by poison ivy, they just pass it on unknowingly to their loving master.
Clothing that has come in contact with urushiol (even someone elses clothing). If you suspect clothing has come in contact, wash it seperately.
Mowing the lawn, especially around the edges. Mowing won't kill the poison ivy but it can really spread the oil around. If you know you have poison ivy in your lawn, let it grow so you can see it and kill it. Once it's dried out, mow again.
Burning poison ivy - REALLY BAD - breathing the smoke can produce life threatening reactions in your lungs.
"Don't eat the berries" - Just because the birds and animals like them doesn't mean you should too - they can make you very sick! "Berries White, Don't Take a Bite"
"Help . . . I've been exposed." Exposure involves direct contact with urushiol. Quick action is needed before the oil begins to be absorbed by the skin (up to10 minutes).
Cleanse the skin with lots of rubbing alcohol if you have it. If not go to next step.
Wash the area with plenty of water (any temperature is OK, cool will keep the skin pores closed) - NO Soap until next step (as with any oil, soap will break up urushiol and make it easier to be absorbed).
Now shower with soap and water to remove any remaining urushiol.
Clean tools etc with rubbing alcohol, taking care to use disposable gloves. If you don't have rubbing alcohol, rinse thoroughly with soap and water.
"Help . . . my yard is infested - what can I do?"
Don't try to pull it up. Even if you are fully protected and you don't contact urushiol, some of the roots will almost certainly break off and the plants come right back.
If you have only a few plants, you can apply Roundup per instructions on the label.
Watch especially for poison ivy in the trees. If you don't get those, they'll be seeding your yard.
Avoid direct contact with any part of the plants.
Hire a professional (see below).
Here's a link to some of the sources of the content of this article plus more info from the Food and Drug Administration: Outsmarting Poison Ivy and Its Cousins, including information on dealing with the rash.
Here's a fun site by a friend of mine: Poison-Ivy.org - note especially his illustrated Laminated Poison Ivy Identification Cards - I don't get anything from John if you buy from him but if you do, tell him I sent you.
My name is Jim Byler. I am a licensed and insured professional poison ivy eradicatorcovering all of Massachusetts. I am located in MetroWest so have quickest response to Berlin, Bolton, Hudson, Northborough, Marlborough, Southborough, Westborough, Boylston, West Boylston, Shrewsbury, Clinton, Lancaster, Sterling, Hopkinton and Holliston. I do kill poison ivy in all of Massachusetts so of course travel beyond these towns as well. "No job is too small, so give me a call!"
You can contact me via the webform below, call me at 508-936-4112 or write me at: The Poison Ivy Guy, PO Box 580, Bolton, MA 01503.
Professional GuaranteedEradication™ Program for your Poison Ivy:
Contact me either by phone or through the webform below.
We meet and walk your yard together to evaluate the extent of your infestation.
I will provide a detailed quote for my GuaranteedEradication™ Program.
With your approval, I will treat your infestation, permanently killing the poison ivy, roots and all.
2-4 weeks later I will return to treat any newly emerged poison ivy or any I may have missed the first time.
I guarantee to get at least 98% of the poison ivy in the treated area or I will come back a 3rd time (or even a 4th if necessary - never has been but there could always be a 1st).
Optional - Annual rescan of your yard to treat any new poison ivy. Remember, the poison ivy I kill is DEAD. It won't ever come back. But I can not treat seeds that may already be in the ground or that may be dropped by birds who love to eat the white berries but often don't digest them.
Whatever you decide, you don't need to be intimidated or imprisoned by poison ivy - your yard can be returned to you.
For an assessment of your poison ivy infestation, a free phone consultation and a candid explanation of your options including how to eradicate it completely, please provide your contact information below.
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Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, please note that I am also a licensed real estate sales agent with Coldlwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
For more information about Massachusetts and Boston MetroWest real estate please visit my Real Estate information Website MetroWest homeTEAM.
DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any past, present or future medical condition and is not meant to be a substitute for routine or emergency professional medical advice. Please consult your medical professional when dealing with any health or safety issues. Should you experience a significant reaction to poison ivy, especially if in your nose or mouth, go directly to your nearest emergency room for assistance. While most reactions are annoying or irritating, some can require medical intervention and, though rare, may be life threatening. If in doubt - call 911.