16 Invasive Species Sold at Garden Centers You Should Never Buy

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Most of us gardeners assume that the people that run our local garden center are knowledgeable and know exactly what they’re selling – and for the most part, that’s true.  But what happens when some of the most commonly sold plants also happen to be some of the most invasive?

Due to the globalization of our society, it’s become very easy to get plants from different areas of the world, grow them, and sell them to gardeners everywhere.

Here’s a list of 16 of the most commonly sold invasive species.  Watch out for them next time you’re browsing for a new plant for the yard!​

Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria)

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It was introduced from China to Europe and North America in 1816 and has secured a place as one of the most popular flowering vines for home gardens due to its flowering habit. It has however become an invasive species in some areas of the eastern United States where the climate closely matches that of China. It can displace native species. Sizable trees have been killed by vining wisteria. When these large trees are killed, it opens the forest floor to sunlight, which allows seedlings to grow and flourish.

Phyllostachys spp. (Bamboo)

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Bamboo, which technically is a giant grass, is one of the world’s most invasive plants. Once established, it is literally next to impossible to control. The sprouts that shoot up from the ground each spring can grow 12 inches a day! The underground roots of common running “fishpole” bamboo, which can easily reach 15 feet tall, can travel as far as 20 feet or more from the original clump.There’s no denying bamboo makes a pretty exotic screen. And with its slender form, it is seemingly ideal for tight urban spaces. Yet, in no time new shoots will appear outside its planting space, creating a maintenance nightmare.

Euonymus fortunei (Winter creeper/Creeping euonymus)

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This shade tolerant plant forms in dense mats, depriving native species of space and sunlight. Winter creeper will also deplete soil nutrients and moisture from nearby plants, making growth and regeneration harder on the native species. The invasive plant colonizes by vine growth and its pink-capsulated seeds spread by birds, small mammals, and water. If allowed to grow out of hand, the vine will spread over anything in its way, even overtopping trees. The winter creeper’s rapid growth, evergreen nature and tolerance of harsh conditions allowed it to easily escape cultivation and quickly spread to forests in every county of the state.

Hedera helix (English ivy)

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English ivy is a vigorous growing vine that impacts all levels of disturbed and undisturbed forested areas, growing both as a ground cover and a climbing vine. As the ivy climbs in search of increased light, it engulfs and kills branches by blocking light from reaching the host tree’s leaves. Branch dieback proceeds from the lower to upper branches, often leaving the tree with just a small green “broccoli head.” The host tree eventually succumbs entirely from this insidious and steady weakening. In addition, the added weight of the vines makes infested trees much more susceptible to blow-over during high rain and wind events and heavy snowfalls.

Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle vine)

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In North America, Japanese honeysuckle has few natural enemies which allows it to spread widely and out-compete native plant species. Its evergreen to semi-evergreen nature gives it an added advantage over native species in many areas. Shrubs and young trees can be killed by girdling when vines twist tightly around stems and trunks, cutting off the flow of water through the plant. Dense growths of honeysuckle covering vegetation can gradually kill plants by blocking sunlight from reaching their leaves. Vigorous root competition also helps Japanese honeysuckle spread and displace neighboring native vegetation.

Euonymus alatus (Winged Burning Bush)

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It threatens a variety of habitats including forests, coastal scrublands and prairies where it forms dense thickets, displacing many native woody and herbaceous plant species. Hundreds of seedlings are often found below the parent plant in what is termed a “seed shadow.”

There are two types available, the “old fashioned” or winged variety and the newer variety, Euonymus Alatus Compacta. The latter one is sold in nurseries and garden centers and does not spread and is not invasive. You can tell the difference between the two by looking at the stems. The older, invasive variety has “wings” on the stems, while the newer one does not. before buying these shrubs, check the stems to make sure of what you’re buying.

Nandina domestica (Nandina/Sacred Bamboo)

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Nandina has naturalized and invaded habitats. It colonizes by spreading underground root sprouts and by animal-dispersed seeds. It can persist as a seedling for several years before maturing. It can displace native species and disrupt plant communities. Berries are can be toxic to cats and some grazing animals.

Ligustrum sinense (Chinese privet)

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Privets form dense thickets that shade out and take the place of native shrubs and herbaceous plants. The shady thickets make conditions unsuitable for native seedlings. Phenolic compounds in the leaves protect plants from leaf-feeding insects which include native herbivorous species.

Elaeagnus umbellata (Autumn olive)

Source: 66 Square Feet

It threatens native ecosystems by out-competing and displacing native plant species, creating dense shade and interfering with natural plant succession and nutrient cycling. It can produce up to 200,000 seeds each year, and can spread over a variety of habitats as its nitrogen-fixing root nodules allows the plant to grow in even the most unfavorable soils. Not to mention that it reproduces quickly and with little effort at all.

Pyrus calleryana (Callery/Bradford pear)

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The Callery pear is an invasive species in many areas of eastern North America, outcompeting many native plants and trees. In the northeastern United States, wild Callery pears sometimes form extensive, nearly pure stands in old fields, along roadsides, and in similar disturbed areas.

Vinca minor (Common periwinkle/Vinca)

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Periwinkle grows vigorously and forms dense and extensive mats along the forest floor, displacing native herbaceous and woody plant species.

Berberis thunbergii (Japanese Barberry)

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Japanese barberry forms dense stands in natural habitats including canopy forests, open woodlands, wetlands, pastures, and meadows and alters soil pH, nitrogen levels, and biological activity in the soil. Once established, barberry displaces native plants and reduces wildlife habitat and forage. White-tailed deer apparently avoid browsing barberry, preferring to feed on native plants, giving barberry a competitive advantage. In New Jersey, Japanese barberry has been found to raise soil pH (i.e., make it more basic) and reduce the depth of the litter layer in forests.

Paulownia tomentosa (Princess tree/Royal Paulownia)

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Princess tree is an aggressive ornamental tree that grows rapidly in disturbed natural areas, including forests, streambanks, and steep rocky slopes. It can survive wildfire because the roots can regenerate new, very fast-growing stems. It is tolerant of pollution and it is not fussy about soil type. All of these characteristics make it s very noxious and opportunistic invasive.

Clematis ternifolia (Sweet autumn clematis)

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This species is found invading forest edges, right-of-ways and urban areas along streams and roads. It grows vigorously over other vegetation, forming dense blankets that block sunlight to the plants underneath. In late summer infestations are conspicuous as a result of its abundant showy white flowers.

Eragrostis curvula (Weeping Lovegrass)

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The natural fire regime in desert communities has been altered as this species has increased, resulting in more intense wildfires that occur with greater frequency. It is not highly preferred by livestock and wildlife for grazing in comparison to native grasses, which has allowed it to become increasingly dominant in many native plant communities. It establishes quickly, produces high quantities of viable seed during its first season of growth, and can spread at a rate of 175 m/year.

Spiraea japonica (Japanese spirea/Japanese Meadowsweet)

Source: imgur

Japanese spiraea can rapidly take over disturbed areas. Growing populations creep into meadows, forest openings, and other sites. Once established, spiraea grows rapidly and forms dense stands that outcompete much of the existing native herbs and shrubs. Seeds of Japanese spiraea last for many years in the soil, making its control and the restoration of native vegetation especially difficult.

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I’m the founder of Epic Gardening, a website dedicated to teaching 10,000,000 people how to grow plants. I enjoy skateboarding, piano, guitar, business, and experimenting with all kinds of gardening techniques!

These 16 invasive species of plants are commonly sold at garden centers - beware of them and DO NOT buy them from your garden store!
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223 thoughts on “16 Invasive Species Sold at Garden Centers You Should Never Buy

  1. You missed jasmine. Just no. We have had one which was there for nearly 30 years – it basically pulled down the front of bricks, and I’m digging out the roots now and finding they’ve wormed their way under structures, and it just pops up everywhere. I hate using weedkiller but in this case I must. Evil, evil, evil, the vines and roots go everywhere and it strangles other things. Jasmine is a weed, full stop.

    Buddleia can be a weed, but I’ve found that where I would like it to grow it’s rather coy and not really that invasive (there are bits of the garden I’d not mind a bit of ‘takeover’ for the sake of bees and butterflies). You can grow it in pots, if you’re worried.

    Bluebells are fine, and Clematis and Honeysuckle are fine in the UK, maybe they just don’t grow as fast?. BTW pretty sure ivy doesn’t kill trees, it just hastens the demise of old ones, and it only damages buildings if they are already in bad repair – although any climber can cause water or insect ingress which you don’t want. As we found!

  2. you should include the following plants in this article – Houttuynia cordata (Chameleon plant), Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), and Hyacinthoides non-scripta (Bluebells).

      • I had a forest of bluebells in my new house a few years ago. This was reduced to one plant. The culprit…my new Rottweiler. They are supposed to be poisonous to dogs, but mine had UTI and was self medicating to try and get rid of her problem. 2 days after getting her I realised what she had and put her on medication. Poor girl.
        I am in the UK and there is a demise in bluebells to the extent that people are being encouraged to plant them to stop them dying out, which is a bit silly as here they are a woodland plant and if I am right, you are not allowed to pick the flowers?

        • Wow, that’s quite a story there. I’ve heard others of dogs self medicating to try and fix their issues…fascinating! I wish I could give you a better answer re: picking bluebells in the UK, but I simply don’t live there so I’m not sure what to tell you! Sorry Jeff!

  3. There should be a clarification under the Euonymus alatus (Burning Bush) listing. There are two types available, the “old fashioned” or winged variety that is mentioned, and the newer variety , Euonymus Alatus Compacta. The latter one is sold in nurseries and garden centers and does not spread and is not invasive. You can tell the difference between the two by looking at the stems. The older, invasive variety has “wings” on the stems, while the newer one does not. before buying these shrubs, check the stems to make sure of what you’re buying.

  4. The photo above the link to this article appeared to me to be something not listed that (in my opinion as a former multi acre landscape caretaker and nursery retail sales) should’ve been #1 on this list: ICEPLANT. It spreads worse than wildfire and is impossible to kill. Also not recommended because I personally saw snakes and rats residing within patches of it. I reside on California’s Central Coast, where the weather pretty much stays the same year round, and most annual plants can become perennial plants.

    • I agree with you. I live in California too and iceplant is quite annoying. Although, as a kid I loved to slide down it on trash can lids. I will be updating this piece with more invasive species in the future and iceplant is a great suggestion 🙂

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