Greenfield poison ivy removal company owner does not use chemicals

LYNDEBOROUGH – Poison ivy can be truly called a “noxious weed.” The urushiol oil contained in all parts of the trailing vine causes a painful rash and oozing blisters on most people who encounter it. The blisters and intense itching can last up to two weeks.

Poison ivy will grow almost anywhere in our region, under all kinds of conditions and it is not easy to eradicate.

Although there are chemical sprays that will kill it, the best way to remove it is to pull it out.

While some people take the risks involved and do that, most people hire someone else.

Helaine Hughes, owner of The Poison Ivy Removal Co. in Greenfield, is one of the few people in the state who does not use chemicals of any kind.

“I don’t like the idea that (chemicals) can get into the ground water,” she said during a recent visit to a homeowner with the problem. “And the dead plant material can infect you for three to five years. You can’t use the place you’ve sprayed. People I help can use the area right away.”

So she and her three employees get into hazmat suits and rip it out by hand.

“I wear the suit with boots attached,” she said, “wade in and sit down, or whatever we need to do. You just have to be careful not to touch your face. The girls do their hair up very well so there are no stray pieces.”

Hughes added, “Poison ivy and yellow jackets shouldn’t be allowed and I run into (the hornets) every once in a while.” Those she does spray.

While simply brushing against the leaves can cause the rash, “you can’t get it from another person,” she said. “The oozing blisters don’t have the urushiol oil.”

But you can get it from your pets – “it doesn’t affect them but the oil is on the tips of their hairs” – and from anything that has touched the vine, tools, shoes, clothes, etc.

Hughes said she does this kind of work “because I’m good at it.” She said she understood the need for protection because in earlier jobs she had worked in clean rooms and as a housekeeper in hospital infectious disease wards.

“In the 1970s, my dad brought home some pheasants and we had to remove the poison ivy to put up a fence. He called Dunstable, Mass., (where we lived) the poison ivy capital of the world.”

Poison ivy vines have horizontal roots, she said, and put down an anchor root every two or three feet, so even pulling it out might not get it all.

“There is a 15 percent grow back,” she said. “You can have us come back or manage that yourself.”

To do the job yourself, Hughes said, “wear long pants and long sleeves. Tape washable gloves to the sleeves and wear washable sneakers. Pull out the ivy and put it in bags. When you’re through, put everything (you are wearing) into the washer and take a shower. As long as you aren’t sweating or it isn’t raining, cotton clothes are fine.”

Do not burn the pulled vines. The urushiol oil stays in the smoke and breathing it can affect the esophagus and the lungs. Double bag the plants and take them to a landfill.

Hughes services are $100 an hour for a crew of two. If the ivy is in light shade, they can do a 10-by-30-foot area, but if it is in mowed grass, the hardest place to remove it, they might do only a 10-by-10 area.

Part of her service is to tell people what poison ivy is, and what it isn’t. Many plants have the three leaves that are the ivy’s main identifier.

Does it have thorns? It’s not poison ivy, probably blackberry.

Does it have alternate leaves, serrated leaves? Not ivy.

“People call me and I can tell them it’s not ivy, put a lot of people’s minds at ease. But I think, and so do some others, that poison ivy tries to look like other plants it is growing near,” she said.

Hughes has lived in Greenfield since 2003, previously living in Wilton. There are other companies who deal with the ivy, she said, some pull but also use sprays. “I’m the only one who just pulls.”

She added, “I love to do it, it’s fun. I get to talk to all these people. Every place (I go) is different. It’s amazing how little information there is out there about poison ivy. William Gillis wrote about the only book and he is trying to get the genetic codes, what insects eat it, is collecting seeds.”

Dr. William T. Gillis 1960 book, “Poison Ivy and Its Kin,” is available from Amazon.

Hughes said, “There is a lot to think about (when dealing with the ivy). You can’t see (the oil), can’t smell it, but any kind of soap will get rid of it.”

The Poison Ivy Removal Company can be reached at 547-6644, at poisonivyremoval
company@tellink.net, or online at
poisonivyremovalcompany.com.