Removing poison ivy

Helaine Hughes, owner of Poison Ivy Removal Company, and removal technician Leo Conley pull up poison ivy from a yard in Hollis last week.

Lauren Collins-Cline usually finds herself battling a case of poison ivy once a year, especially during springtime, when she begins digging around in the flower beds at her Bedford home.

“We have a few vine-like weeds that are harmless, but inevitably I come across the poison ivy and don’t even realize it until it’s too late,” she said.

This year, she said, she is finding poison ivy in even more places.

Poison ivy

This summer’s damp weather has been a boon for poison ivy, says removal contractor Helaine Hughes.

Experts say the dreaded three-leafed plant — source of food for wildlife and misery for people — has flourished, thanks to a wet summer.

“The rain is making it very happy,” said Helaine Hughes of Greenfield, owner of the Poison Ivy Removal Company.

Hughes, who suits up in protective gear to rip out the plant’s roots, has been waging a war on poison ivy for 19 years.

“I constantly hear customers saying, ‘I’ve lived here 30 years and I’ve never seen it, but this year it’s everywhere,’” she said.

While she’s used to getting poison ivy, Collins-Cline had a bad bout this year.

“Often, I’ll just get it on my arms or the back of my hands — some eczema-type patches — and I can use cream for a few days until it fades. This year, however, it was on my cheeks and chin, like I had brushed hair away from my face after touching the leaves.”

The case was severe enough to send her to urgent care.

“Thankfully, I’ve never had it twice in one season — knock on wood,” she said.

According to the American Skin Association, each year an estimated 50 million people in the United States experience an allergic reaction to poison ivy and other plants, including poison sumac and poison oak. Between 10% and 15% of those reactions are considered extreme.

It’s caused by urushiol, an oil in the poison ivy that can spread even if a person doesn’t actually touch the poisonous plant.

“Things are growing really well because it’s been a great summer for plant growth, so the poison ivy that’s out there probably looks really lush and green, just like people’s gardens,” said Malin Clyde, extension specialist in natural resources at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension in Durham.

It also does well along the sides of roads that are mowed and plowed regularly, and is abundant along the edges of streams that have had soil disturbed by this summer’s heavy rain.

“That soil becomes a nice planting area. Poison ivy loves to come in as the first thing, and so it does really well in that condition,” Clyde said.

Leo Conley bags poison ivy

Leo Conley, a removal technician at Poison Ivy Removal Company, bags up poison ivy pulled from a yard in Hollis.

Hughes has seen a spike in calls for her poison ivy removal business since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Everybody was home. Suddenly their children were home and not at school so everybody suddenly ran into poison ivy,” Hughes said.

Pete Barron, owner of Pesky Pete’s Poison Ivy Removal, also wonders if those are the reasons his Newton, Mass.-based company has been out straight, including in southern New Hampshire,

The worst case of poison ivy he’s seen involved a family who adopted three puppies during the pandemic.

“The puppies were all digging in the same area on the same day and the four people in the family got poison ivy, pretty much from their stomach up. Chest, arms, face. They slept with the dogs that same day and got poison ivy all over them,” he said.

Poison ivy is part of the diet for some wildlife, including birds, who often help spread it because they eat the berries and then release the seeds in their excrement.

Hughes said she once found a line of poison ivy sprouting up from the ground below a telephone line crossing someone’s yard.

“It was really clear cause and effect,” she said.

Clyde suggested keeping soap specifically designed to wash away the poison ivy oil on hand.

“Because of the delayed reaction, you can touch all kinds of things before you get the rash, so you have to think about what you touched and wash it all because the oil lasts three to five years,” Hughes said.