Poison Ivy Free
in Massachusetts

"Leaves Three, Quickly Flee, Leaves Five, Stay and Thrive."
Or maybe you learned: "Leaves of Three, Let it Be" or maybe "Hairy Vine, no friend of mine" . . . in any case the advice is well taken. Unless you're in the fortunate 15% of the population that isn't affected by poison ivy
(Toxicodendron radicans) or its cousins, poison oak (T. diversilobum) and poison sumac (T. vernix). 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. . .

hand fingers arm

What is Poison Ivy?
Ironically, poison ivy is neither a poison nor an ivy. It is an allergen and a member of the cashew family. It, along with its cousins, can cause a red, itchy rash called allergic contact dermatitis. The body considered it harmful and reacts with a to protect you from it . . . but you may not appreciate the attempt! Your body can become sensitive to the oil through contact, sometimes over many exposures over many years, sometimes on first contact. Here's a link to a WebMD Topic Overview and one from the Mayo Clinic. For more detail you might want to check Wikipedia's article on Toxicodendron.

Captain John Smith wrote about poison ivy in the early 1600's and originated the common name because of its superficial resemblance to English Ivy or Boston Ivy. And did you know that the cashew we all love roasted and salted is actually a seed found inside the cashew apple which contains the very same urushiol?

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 along the ground. It has three leaflets attached to the same smooth stem. They are sometimes a glossy, bright green but may be dull, and sometimes colors other than green.

NOTE: the scouts used to teach "Three small, shiny leaves." Three is always true but glossy and small may or may not be true. I've seen 8-9" poison ivy leaves and, at least in my experience, more often flat, matt or satin (to compare to paint) and only occasionally gloss.

leaf mix leaf tree vines
vine vine vine vine
leaf colors cluster
long leaf berries spring

Poison Ivy spreads by:
  1. The roots extending themselves underground  
  2. Vines growing along the ground or up trees  
  3. Seeds dropping to the ground or carried by birds.  
berries berries14

When Can I 'Get' Poison Ivy?

You can be exposed any time of the year, but it is 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.

Playing with a dog which 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!
  3. Clothing that has come in contact with urushiol (even someone else's clothing). If you suspect clothing has come in contact, wash it separately.
  4. 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.
christmas decoration
The exposure for the hands picture above was from some beautiful green and white berries on vines collected for Christmas decorations.
"Help . . . I've been exposed."
Exposure requires direct skin contact with urushiol. Quick action is needed before the oil begins to be absorbed by the skin (up to 10 minutes).
  1. Cleanse the skin with lots of rubbing alcohol if you have it. If not go to next step.
  2. 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).
  3. Shower with soap, water and a wash cloth to remove any remaining urushiol. Vigorously scrub with a wash cloth any skin area you think may have contacted the oil - friction will remove the oil.
  4. 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. As above, use old rags to add friction in the wiping process and then discard the rag.
Jim, Thanks for your help in taking care of the poison ivy. Great service!
C B, Marlborough
"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 back.
If you have only a few plants, you can apply Roundup per instructions on the label.
  3. 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).
Thanks for getting the PI under control. Hopefully I can keep it that way!
A M, Dover
What about Poison Oak and Poison Sumac?

In Massachusetts, it's pretty safe to say we have no Poison Oak (T. diversilobum) which grows mainly west of the Mississippi. I've never seen live poison oak. Next time I get to California, I'll try to look for some.

It's also unlikely that you have any Poison Sumac in your yard since it grows primarily in very wet, swampy areas. I've only seen one poison sumac plant in Massachusetts, on the far side of
Hutchins Pond in Concord
He went around my property and discussed the poison ivy situation in my yard. He's very knowledgable . . . He was prompt and did what he said he would do. His demeanor was pleasant. I'm glad I did it.
K M, List

Useful Links

Sources of some of the content of this site from the Food and Drug Administration: Outsmarting Poison Ivy and Its Cousins, including information on dealing with the rash.

My friend Jon Sach's great poison ivy site: Poison-Ivy.org. Be sure to check out his very useful quiz on identifying poison ivy A Poison Ivy Quiz.

And two links from the CDC: Poisonous Plants. Be sure to check out the video on how Poison Ivy works half way down on the page . . . and a PDF "Protecting Yourself from Poisonous Plants". The video can also be found here on YouTube "How Poison Ivy Works".

Who are we and what do we do?
We are licensed and insured professional poison ivy eradicators covering all of Massachusetts. Pricing is time, materials and travel time so varies by distance with starting points for each town that may be adequate for smaller jobs and may cover your property. Of course, we can't give you a firm price without seeing how much poison ivy you have and what challenges there may be in eradicating it. "No job is too small, so give us a call!"

Sprayed all visible poison ivy on property on two separate occasions, several weeks apart. We had a pretty extensive problem, poison ivy in many different spots. This seemed to do the trick. . . they offered a strong guarantee of their work and promised to return if the poison ivy does. They were prompt and friendly.
J R, Arlington on Angies List

Professional GuaranteedEradication Program for your Poison Ivy:

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 back.
Thanks for getting the PI under control. Hopefully I can keep it that way!
A M, Dover
  2. We meet and walk your yard together to evaluate the extent of your infestation.
  3. We will provide a detailed quote for our GuaranteedEradication Program.
With your approval, we will treat your infestation, permanently killing the poison ivy, roots and all.
Several weeks later we will return to treat any newly emerged poison ivy or any we may have missed the first time.

We 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). Bottom line, if you're not happy with the results, we're not happy and you make the decision since we don't know how to quantify 98% eradication!
  7. Optional - Annual rescan of your yard to treat any new poison ivy. Remember, the poison ivy we kill is DEAD. It won't ever come back. But we can not treat seeds that may already be in the ground or that may be dropped by birds who love to eat the berries for food in the winter but can't digest the seeds.

Super Service Award

We are Independent Consultants for
Cooper's Poison Ivy Service

phone: 508-936-4112


Contact Us
The web form is currently broken. Please email us here with your name, phone, address, etc. We'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Email is best but you can also try to call me - especially during the really busy time (mid May and into July) I'm frequently on site with a customer and need to let the call go to voice mail.

Email The Poison Ivy Guy

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, please note that Jim is also a licensed real estate sales agent with
Coldlwell Banker Residential Brokerage
For more information about Massachusetts and Boston MetroWest real estate please visit his homeTEAM Real Estate information Website.

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