16 Invasive Species Sold at Garden Centers You Should Never Buy


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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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

Berberis thunbergii (Japanese Barberry)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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)

Source: imgur

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.


Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

Source: imgur

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu

Did this article help you? Yes No
× How can we improve it?
× Thanks for your feedback!

We're always looking to improve our articles to help you become an even better gardener.

While you're here, why not follow us on Facebook and YouTube? Facebook YouTube

236 thoughts on “16 Invasive Species Sold at Garden Centers You Should Never Buy”

  1. About 15 years ago I bought a Martha Stewart plant. Martha was selling seeds and plants back then…I’m not sure where…maybe Lowe’s? It said hummingbirds liked it, so I bought it. What could be wrong if Martha Stewart put her name on a plant? The plant stayed small for 7 years and then it became possessed by a demon and shot up against my shed. And under my shed. Into my garden beds, under my pool deck. In my lawn. It’s orange trumpet vine and when I see it I think of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness….. “The horror…the horror.”

    How dare they sell that plant? How dare Martha Stewart put her name on it?

  2. Ornamental bamboo CAN be removed, but it’s a LOT of work! One method I’ve heard of, is to completely isolate it (basically, by digging a moat, of sorts, around the area where it’s growing), then water the daylights out of it. Make sure that it’s NOT allowed to spread, by sending out the rhizomes (roots…thus, the moat). It will eventually kill itself, by reaching the end of its growth cycle; being unable to send out new rhizomes, to create new shoots, it will end up dying off. Or so it’s claimed!

    Unfortunately, where it grows in my yard, I have underground cables….so digging would be dicey, at best! So I’ve started cutting it down, drying it, and recycling it, by tying pieces together, into trellises! It seems I will have an endless supply, that’s for sure!

    • That’s a pretty smart idea, both on the drowning out as well as the repurposing! If it’s not gonna go away…next best thing is to reuse it like you are! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Virginia creeper is invading every corner of my small garden, and I don’t know how to get rid of it. Help! Any advice?

    • Unfortunately, Virginia creeper’s one of those plants that really ONLY dies off using chemical means. The only organic solution for wiping it out is to dig up and remove/throw away any bits that you can get, but that won’t prevent it from coming back.

      What’s most often recommended for killing off Virginia creeper is glyphosate. This is a non-selective herbicide, and will kill off ANY plants that it’s near, so a lot of people refuse to use it (and with good reason!). But I read an interesting work-around that someone came up with.

      This person found the thick and woody stem of the Virginia creeper and used a drill to bore a small hole into the center of the stem. They then used an eyedropper to put liquid glyphosate into the center of the stem, and used a piece of dowel to plug the hole. This prevented the glyphosate from leaking out and down the stem. Within a matter of a few days, the portion above the glyphosate had started to die back as it worked through the plant.

      Now, I realize this is an extreme measure, but if you’ve got lots of Virginia creeper and you just aren’t able to dig it out fast enough, this might be a solution. It’ll kill off the growing portion beyond your chemical dose, at least, and over time it’ll kill off the rest of the plant too.

      • Virginia creeper is native and has some ecological benefits (e.g. larval food source for native insects). Things like Nandina have no redeeming qualities outside of their native territory.

        • While that is true, when it’s acting as an invasive and someone wants to wipe it out, it’s best to advise how to wipe it out!

  4. Information please on a plant known by several names.I know it as Turban’s Cap.Has rich red blooms.Beautiful color.Can it become invasive ?

  5. Is st John’s wort considered an invasive species? I planted it in a garden bed a few years ago and oh-my-goodness it grew big, and took over! After pulling it all out (or what I thought was all of it) I am still finding new growth. It runs it’s roots deep, and spreads well! Never again! While I can appreciate the hardiness of the plant and benefits for medicinal purposes, I view it as an invasive plant that I will be regretting for a while. I just found the podcast a few days ago, loving the algae series. Thanks for all the great info!

    • Initially, St. John’s Wort was brought to the United States to be kept as a cultivated plant. However, in some areas of the country it’s escaped cultivation. Known also as “goatweed” or “Klamath weed”, it can spread rapidly if the growing conditions are perfect… and it sounds like for you, they are!

      It isn’t invasive everywhere, though, which is why it doesn’t make it onto the most common invasive species lists. The common lists are species which aren’t from the US at all and were brought here, and are taking over nearly everywhere they’re grown.

      It’s hard to cover all of the different invasives, especially as growing conditions vary so widely and nurseries don’t always consider them to be invasive. As an example, fescue grass is considered invasive in my area. It’s also the most common kind of grass seed sold in garden centers for this area. Needless to say, fescue grows extremely well here… but it often escapes the lawn and tries to conquer the garden too!

      Keep fighting the good fight against your invasive (but admittedly beneficial for medicines) St. John’s Wort. In time, you’ll manage to win, but it might take a while!

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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 🙂

  10. We have a few of these invasives in California, but the arid summers keep some in check. Instead we have a different suite of invasives, frequently from the Mediterranean, Africa and South America, like Gazanias and Arundo donax and a variety of brooms.

  11. No one talking about Eucalyptus? Especially Blue Gum. People here on the Central Coast tend to defend it, mostly because Monarch butterflies flock to it for some strange reason.

  12. These species are fine in your yard as long as you keep them trained and don’t let them go wild. My burning bushes don’t burn much and I wish they would be red and beautiful!

    • The seeds from your bushes may be quite effectively spread by birds. Your bushes would thereby contribute to this species invasion into surrounding areas.

  13. The house we rent is INFESTED with English ivy!! I’ve tried everything under the sun to get rid of it all! Guess burning the damn house down is the only way! Ugh!

  14. Kevin I want to add three more to your list. WE have a wildlife reserve at Robe where these are weeds we constantly have to remove.
    1. Rhamnus or Buckthorn which looks nice as a hedge plant but if it gets into native areas it takes over and grows into large trees and is hard to dig out as it has a hooked tap root. Garlon(1:30) in diesel is an effective control.
    2. Polygala is a common garden plant but again if it gets out into native scrub it quickly takes over and can grow to tree heights. We removed over 1 million knee high plants from the wildlife reserve.
    3. Lavatory creeper (dolichus) which completely smothers all other vegetation if allowed to run rampant.

  15. This must be for people who live in the Eastern US? Several of these plants are popular in the Pacific Northwest and not invasive here.

  16. I have a number of these in my woods (5 acres) and am systematically eradicating them and replacing with Michigan natives.

  17. I’d add poplar trees to the list. Five years after my neighbor spent $4k to cut down all the 60 foot weeds his landscaper planted, I’m still getting poplar shoots in my back yard fifty feet away.

    That and poplars are termite bait.

  18. They forgot Trumpet vine. Worst one I ever planted and i have a few of those on my land. I had the winter creeper in my trees but cut that all out. But is still is on the ground in some areas. Almost impossible to kill. The burning bush too is spread all over the place by birds.

  19. I have many of these and have never had a problem at all with any of them. However, the ivy is HORRIBLE!

  20. I had a MAJOR problem with bamboo, which had been planted in the side yard by the previous owner of the property. It got to the point where the entire side yard was overcome and half the back yard as well. Plus, I was seeing new shoots emerge almost every day. It was impossible to keep up with it by continuous cutting, and brush or grass killers had little or no effect. So I decided to try something different. I mixed together grass and brush killer concentrate in a large spray bottle. Then I cut the tops off several new shoots, poked a hole down in them with an awl, and using the “stream” feature on the sprayer, squirted a couple of shots of the mixture into them. For large plants (some were over 20′ tall!), I drilled a hole in the base and squirted in several shots. I cut “bushy” stands at ground level and treated them with the mix the same way I did new shoots. This took a couple of days of hard work but it paid off almost immediately. 90% of the existing bamboo was dead in a couple of weeks and I stopped seeing new shoots, period. I knew the bamboo was all connected underground and I was hoping it would “share” the poison through this network – and I think that’s what happened. Sorry for the length of this comment, but I’ve never seen this procedure mentioned before and it really worked for me!

  21. You could probably generalize and say any plant within the genus Ligustrum should be avoided. That includes Japanese privet, possible other noxious species.


  23. If you HAVE Autumn Olive growing nearby, you can reduce some of its spread by picking and eating the silver-speckled berries – they’re quite tasty when fully ripe! The semi-soft seeds are also edible, and cooking or chewing them will kill them.

  24. The top plant shown is not Hedera Helix, but Hedera Canariensis, which can cover and kill trees. I’ve seen so many nativists not know much about the plants they condemn.

    That’s the only real problem plant here. Many of the others are beautiful and don’t spread at all or far.

    Those not native themselves should leave before targeting plants that native animals love and need.


  25. Pawlowina trees are the worst. All over the Nantahala National Forest and are horrible. We bought a cabin and cut four of them down. Still feels like a battle.

  26. Sure enough – these invaisive species are problematic in many areas. While in California, they
    were and are considered problematic. Always good to have a reminder!

  27. Eh, I love my sweet autumn clematis. It’s easy to control in the urban environment and provides amazing flowers and smells late summer.

  28. This is a good general list, though I would comment that your region matters–some plants are real pests in some places and not so much in others. Please allow me to suggest you check out my book How to Eradicate Invasive Plants (Timber Press), which lists 200 plants (still! not an exhaustive list!), along with noninvasive alternatives where applicable. I also spend a long chapter describing less-toxic methods for combatting unwanted plants and explain exactly how Roundup functions. The book is aimed at gardeners/homeowners. Thank you.

  29. You forgot a very important one–Virginia Creeper! It’s a terrible nuisance, chokes out entire shrub hedges, and is taking over neighborhoods in Berlin, NH! It even climbs high into trees, wrapping the entire trunk and starving it from sunlight. (Possibly you didn’t list it because it is no longer sold in nurseries, however, the people who planted it many years ago left quite a legacy.)

  30. Clumping bamboo is NOT invasive. Stop spreading fake news about these plant species. It’s really misleading and deserves more than the one liner that causes people to believe all bamboo grows so rampantly. The umbrella bamboo (Fargesia murielae) variety only shoots runners about 1 – 3″ per year. The clump grows at that rate and can be easily removed or divided. It also only flowers and drops seed once every 100 years. Definitely not an invasive species.

  31. That list includes just about everything I have on my two acre lot. Nonetheless, I’m happy with my aggressive plants. Fifty years ago I bought 3 sprigs of English Ivy (specifically, Rochester Ivy) and now it’s covered about half our trees, and it’s impossible to get rid of, since it sinks its tendrils into the host’s bark. But its large clumps of year-round green are welcome. My Nandina remains where I planted it. The Vinca has beautiful blue blooms every spring and makes a great ground cover in areas where nothing else grows. Spirea is hardy, surviving killing frosts. I love the statement that clematis makes! And Bradford Pears are actually our City’s favorite trees, turning our roadsides into bursts of white fluff.

    • I have just removed English Ivy from a 100 year old Elm and an English oak. The English Ivy that many English gardeners have growing in their urban gardens grows on fences, trellis and other structures where vines come in handy. The problem occurs when it is grown on trees especially mature trees. English Ivy is a very competitive vine and competes very vigorously with living supports, it does not view non living structures as competition. English Ivy can kill trees and has killed the oak on my property. The oak tree was the original host and I had to hire a JCB to remove the Ivy’s woody stems which quiet frankly was more like lots of tree trunks entwinned and completely covering the oak. The Ivy’s woody stems that resembled twisted mature tree trunks suffocated the oak tree. Although the Elm was covered it was not smothered. I understand how some people find it hard to believe that English Ivy cannot Kill trees, but when it deems itself to be in competition it does exactly that. I picked by hand for two years all the tendrils of the bark. English Ivy is not only invasive, its deadly.

  32. Rather than say these are so bad, there are very good uses for some of these plants. We have a very high embankment on our road that cannot be manicured even with a weedeater. We are looking for something to look nice rather than multiflora roses and poison ivy.

  33. Interesting take on some of these plants. In our beautiful stone home yard we have 2 shaded areas of english ivy with some inca growing that creates a beautiful year round green area. I have planted clumping bamboo in the back for a fence which creates a green privacy fence. I made a wooden framed privacy fence using the dried bamboo which again adds to the ambiance of the area. We have several honeysuckle trees growing which give privacy and wonderful smells. The ivy grows on the side of our stone home making a green wall. Not sure what you are talking about.

  34. sorry kevin,but you better call this article “16 Invasive Species Sold at Garden Centers You Should Never Buy IN north AMERICA” because these plants are not invasive all over the world! your article seems to be vague and not completed, sorry

    • My audience is 80% North American David so my posts are most often geared towards that demographic, but you’re right! This article has gotten a lot of interest and thus a lot of controversy and your points are very well taken.

  35. Why is there no mention of Japanese Knotweed? That is the WORST. Nearly impossible to get rid of and it will take over everything.

    • If I was to list every invasive species, this article would never end! I have another one that’s 39 in California ALONE! I do share your frustration with Knotweed though 🙂

  36. The worst invasive species in my area is ailanthis( tree of heaven). It’s not heaven that I think of when I have to pull up thousands of seedlings every year in my half acre lot. The wood is weak and breaks to pieces in every windstorm but liontails new growth in a week or so. And it stinks when you pull them up

  37. Gah! When are people going to get past this attitude to ‘invasive’ plants? It comes out of a pseudoscience predicated on a questionable notion of a ‘competitive’ natural world that Western man has projected onto natural systems. It’s a product of interpretation, not fact. First Nation cultures (who understood much better and whose world view is not so ridiculously competitive as so-called ‘civilised’ man) see nature as cooperative and collaborative, not competitive. Once you shift your perspective, it’s easy to see how these plants have their place. Work with nature, not against it. Nature is constantly trying to repair the damage man does through his lack of understanding of natural systems. Don’t stop using the plants: stop creating the circumstances that call for these plants to act like they’re doing!

    Nature never leaves soils uncovered. When you till soils, all the soil life and soil carbon are progressively lost to oxidation, even before you start applying a barrage of chemicals. Soils lose their ability to hold water, communication pathways between plants working in collaboration are cut and the cycle that has built and regenerated the soil for millennia is broken. The soil starts to lose its structure and ability to support life. It becomes prone to erosion and flood-drought cycles. Groundwaters are not recharged because the rain can no longer infiltrate. One third of the planet’s soils are now classed as degraded. The UN estimates we may only have as little as 60 years’ worth of growing left. In less than 200 years, we will have completely destroyed what took thousands of years to build. Through our incredible stupidity we are destroying our life-support system. We need to get our heads round how this works and work with it. FAST!

    Most of the species listed above are primary colonisers. They’re nature’s Bandaids. If they’re growing and ‘invading’ spaces humans don’t want them to occupy, it’s because the soils and the health of the ecosystem are in a bad way. They’re generally short-lived species because they pave the way for the climax vegetation to establish or reestablish itself. They will very rarely colonise healthy ecosystems, even if non-native, because they’re not needed. Their job is to form a protective cover for disturbed or degraded soils as quickly as possible and generate a large amount of biomass to restore those soils to health and fertility as quickly as possible. Some of them are attractive to grazing animals so the animals will process some of that biomass into fertiliser and speed up the soil regeneration process even more. Some of them form impenetrable thorny thickets to keep everything well clear of the area while it undergoes repair. Many of them are nitrogen-fixers – ie. they can make their own fertiliser to support their growth when the soil is exhausted. Many of them have lots of uses to man as well.

    So grow them and work with them! Cherish and support them in their work! Don’t till or use chemicals. Keep cutting them back and they’ll keep coming, but leave the prunings where they fall as mulch (or chip them to speed things up more). Bring in a herbivore or two to browse in situ and you’ve got soil building on steroids. In less than a decade you’ll have good, rich, fertile soil with excellent water retention, lots of happy microbes and lots of happy plants.

    • Strongly disagree. I have a huge problem with autumn olive and japanese barberry on my land. The barberry is favored cover for deer ticks increasing our already serious Lyme disease issue in our part of Wisconsin.

  38. I disagree that most of these should never be planted. You will note that when most of these plants spread it is to “disturbed areas” areas where native plants have difficulty growing. Autumn Olive for example, usually takes over old farm fields with depleted soil or roadsides. It puts nitrogen back into the soil and actually promotes the growth of some tree species, which eventually over take it and shade it out. It provides cover for ground nesting birds and deer and tons of food for many bird species, here my fields are full of migrating birds in fall taking advantage of Autumn Olive. Bees love the flowers and make a superior honey from it. Its excellent for pollinators of all kinds. Even people can make jelly from the berries which are higher than tomatoes in lycopene. It has its place as do many of the plants listed. Nature doesn’t have invasive plants, only successful ones.

    • Respectfully, Ms. Willis, part of the problem with exotic/invasives is that they are planted for (at least) one of several desirable traits: (a) colorful foliage, (b) lots of beautiful flowers, or (c) abundance of fruit. With regard to (b) & (c), with exotics, thousands of flowers translate to thousands of fruit, possibly millions of seed, which is where the problem lies. The fact that animals eat them only exacerbates the problem. Like ligustrum: the birds (or deer, or insert your favorite wildlife) eat the fruit, fly into the pecan orchard where I live (or insert any place near you), and deposit and fertilize seed under my pecan trees in one bowel movement. I desire not the time nor cost of eradicating thousands of privet hedge in order to gather my pecan crop. Many other species provide the same issue to other orchards, and also in peoples landscaping and yard. Just my opinion, but one of experience, dear!!!

      • I have more than 50 years of experience in gardening, plus I was an Extension horticulturist until I retired. I have done a lot of research on so called invasive plants and I have given several talks on the topic. Birds will deposit seeds of native plants that are considered weedy too. There is no reason to avoid all non-native plants, in some cases they are the right choice for the situation. Many non-native plants have been quite helpful to the environment and other species. Other non-natives are not so great but those probably wouldn’t be offered by garden stores. Most gardens have non-native plants as well as non-native earthworms and honeybees.

        • Again, with all due respect, I never said that all non natives were bad. But I did say that those what produce high volumes of seed, (which also would ‘imply’ high germination rates, and likely the ability to germinate across a range of sites) are a nuisance. I think I can agree with most of what you say as well. However, as to invasives “usually”…taking over …”disturbed areas” where native plants have difficulty growing…” such as “…old farm fields with
          depleted soil or roadsides” is only part of the problem. Ligustrum, where I live, has taken over the understories of riparian areas all across the southern counties of my state, preventing the germination of native species. I respect your service & experience, for the record I have spent much of my career (35 years+) as a natural resource manager, educating landowners (and educators) about eradication of unwanted exotic/invasives (key word UNWANTED). I have no beef against European honeybees, either. Best to ya!

  39. Barberry is a vector for deer ticks. The dense foliage provides the correct humidity for tick eggs to mature, and the ticks can grow relatively predator free, due to the thorns. Birds don’t like landing on barberry. Its extensive use in residential landscaping makes it a big contributor in the spread of Lyme disease in areas you wouldn’t expect. I read an interesting article on this, wish I could find it to post the link here.

  40. I’m seeing people here and also in places where this is shared saying they have one of these plants and it ‘isn’t a problem’. The point is NOT that is will necessarily be a problem in your own yard, though some certainly may be. If you are happy growing ornamental non-natives, you might think a completely ivy covered ground is a feature, not a problem. But the reason plants like these make lists like these is that they threaten native plant communities, where we need natives and diversity. Your honeysuckle or burning bush or ornamental grass may be seeding into a nearby natural area where staff or more likely volunteers are fighting it vigorously. These non-native plants grow out of step with the native plants and overtake them and shade out or crowd out the native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. So even if YOU don’t have a problem, you should seriously think about removing it and replacing it with a native alternative in order to be a good citizen and not harm nearby natural areas that others are trying to hard to restore and maintain.

  41. Mint is very invasive. My mother had a tree (I think it was called a smoke tree) that was horrible about reproducing little trees.

  42. Yes, I thought the same thing, “where are the native alternatives”? It was a perfect opportunity to pitch for them and there are some fabulous alternatives to those in this list. For example, instead of chinese wisteria, we have a native wisteria or you could plant cross vine or passion vine. Instead of regular bamboo, you can plant “clumping” bamboo. It is not invasive. Instead of autumn olive you could plant wax myrtle. Instead of sweet autumn clematic, you could plant carolina jessamine. Instead of weeping lovegrass, you could plant any number of native clumping grasses. See http://www.wildflower.org for more.

    • Thanks for the comment, Holly. I will admit when I wrote this piece I was much less knowledgeable than I am now, and all of your helpful comments have given me a lot more information. I’ll check out http://www.wildflower.org and either update this post, or create a new series about invasive species by region and their alternatives!

  43. Invasiveness is often a regional issue. It would be helpful for this article to note for each species where they are considered invasive. There are also some aggressively invasive species for California that aren’t on this list: Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana), Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum), Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii). For more information about invasive species in regions around California and alternative selections, check out: http://www.cal-ipc.org/landscaping/dpp/index.php

    • Thanks for the comment. You’re right, this list is nowhere near complete. I think I’m going to do a series on invasive plants by region, especially California (my home state). Thanks for that link, I’ve saved it for later 🙂

      • That Cal-IPC site is great for checking for “official” invasiveness status. Another very useful site for checking nativeness and less-official invasiveness in CalFlora.org.

    • There are some grasses on the list provided elsewhere on this site that I find invasive. Like Liriope and switch grass. While some of your nuisance plants I have found to be a problem. I have an Autumn Clematis that has, as far as I know not spread to any where in my yard or the neighbors.

  44. This article would be better if you put alternative native species to select under each one; landscapers and those awful space planners (and even so called ‘environmental’ specialists) choose this crap for projects.

  45. Oops, I put honeysuckle in my yard. It doesn’t seem to be out of control after 6 years though. I did get rid of my barberry. In the Pac NW, vinca minor is a common ground cover. Glad I never tried it!

    • There are several different kinds of invasive honeysuckle, but there are also some native varieties. In my area, Amur Honeysuckle is the biggest problem. I have come to understand that any non native honeysuckle can be identified by cutting a healthy stem – if it is hollow, you’ve got a problem. If you do find it to be an invasive variety, please remove it, as the berries it produces in the fall are spread by birds to other places it can’t be controlled as well as your backyard. To get rid of it, dig it up, or cut AND spray the stumps with herbicide. I hope I’ve helped!

    • I had vinca in various places, found that as long as I kept it where it was somewhat sunny and dry it was controllable, but if it reached a slightly shady or moist spot, I had to rip it out quickly to keep it under control. That was sometimes difficult to do, especially at first since by the time I saw the problem, it was a two or three year job to remove all traces.

  46. Many other non-native invasive plants to add to this list as well, depending what part of the country you live in. Here in Western North Carolina there are around 100 species considered invasive, but at different threat levels. Another invasive plant that is often advertised and sold is Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). Girdles trees and either kills them by restricting flow of water and nutrients or by pulling the tree down with its weight. Nasty plant and is typically dropped via birds in the middle of our intact forests where it has a sit and wait tactic; could be present for years until it decides that conditions are just right and will spread rapidly. Often used to make wreaths around fall/the holidays: this spreads the seeds even more!! It’s all about education. Also, I believe you mean “Clematis terniflora” and not “ternifolia.” Thanks for this article!

  47. The trouble with this article, available on a global basis via www, is that it is based around NE America but doesn’t state this at the outset. It also opens with an unexplained picture of Carpobrotus edulis, an invasive in hotter climes. Here in the UK, many of these plants are non-invasive, so please you Americans, don’t assume the the USA is the whole world!

    I would also add that climate change makes this kind of thing inevitable as zones rapidly shift around the world. These may just be pioneers of a new ecology we will have to build as patterns shift and established species can no longer cope with the conditions. It’s coming, get used to the idea.

    • I don’t think any one of the plants listed arrived here because of climate change. They were brought here through horticultural introduction. We do not “build” ecology, ecology happens on its own. I’d suggest finding out what is invasive in the UK and getting rid of it before it takes over.

      • Ah, but climate zones are now changing globally much faster than Nature can adapt them within an acceptable time-frame for human survival. So we have to transmigrate ecologies to new areas if we want to retain a habitable Earth. Nature doesn’t mind if it takes 100,000 years to adjust to the new conditions, but we won’t survive if it does. In the UK we have whole organisations like NNSS (Non Native Species Secretariat) devoted to the subject. My point is that some plants, however introduced, may form the vanguard of these new ecologies. We have to have a balanced view, but we also have to understand that we can’t hold back the forces that we’ve unleashed and that Nature is not fixed but in constant slow flux. We just have to speed up that flux to a rapid flow. Things are about to change far more than most people are willing to accept, but change they will.

        • This is a really insightful comment, Mark. You’re not only looking at the reality of invasive species, but the long term repercussions as well. I didn’t know about the NNSS, but will check them out. What would you suggest as far as understanding that we can’t hold back the flow?

          • Hi Kevin, please see my answer to sansible above. As i said there, we need to train ourselves in how to manage the change, rather than try to resist it and hold things back in a past ideal, or static state.

        • Non-native plants may not feed native pollinators, and by nature of their more aggressive growth, they may crowd out the plants that do feed native birds, bees, etc. They can also create monocultures – for example, here in New England, the sugar maple has a large canopy that allows dappled sunlight to reach the forest understory for ferns and many other plants on the forest floor. In contrast, the invasive Norway maple has a very dense canopy that blocks more of the sun and nothing grows beneath it. Ecosystems are highly complex and I would caution anyone who might think it’s as simple as “oh, the local climate is getting too warm for a northern blueberry, so we’ll just put in a burning bush; they look about the same.” In the Northeast US, at least, invasive species are a far greater concern to the ecosystem than any benefit. Of course, most of the invasives in our region were brought in for their hardiness when it comes to landscaping rather than any efforts to adapt to a change in climate. It’s just that very quality of hardiness that makes them problematic – our front lawns aren’t isolated from the rest of the world, seeds spread, etc.

          • I agree with all your comments and in the UK, we have the Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus which causes the same problem of out-competing the natives. Originally imported as an ornamental, this is a tree of central/southern Europe, which is precisely the kinds of zones marching towards us now. So what we may have to do, if the sycamore survives where our wonderful Oaks may not (ultimately, perish the thought) is import the flora and fauna that this tree is known to support. I know! full of dangers, but we’ll get desperate enough to try these things as the effects of climate change progress. What we should be doing right now, is studying how to do this; that is the knowledge that is missing. Ultimately, any ecology that thrives is better than no ecology at all. That could be the stark reality we face. In the US, with your continental climate, things may be slower to change. The UK, with it’s maritime influences is vulnerable, and highly unpredictable, i’d say. The point is, we cannot view existing ecologies as a static thing, even without man’s influence they change over time (the Sahara was temperate forest just 10,000 years ago). We have sped up this process by an order of magnitude that will have huge consequences. I believe if we keep warming to less than 2degC we can adapt to the changes.

  48. So many of these invasives are used as estate / foundation plantings by developers and landscapers. Landscaping services, in particular, should be educated about invasive plants for their areas and encouraged to use native plants wherever possible.

  49. Until I moved up to the high country of Western North Carolina, I’d never heard of the Oriental Bittersweet Vine. The first thing I noticed when we purchased our home were the vines encircling most of the large trees on the hill behind our house. In the fall they had beautiful red and yellow blooms. After doing some research on them I discovered they’d been imported into the area for use in creating ornamental wreaths and other decorations. They seem to be specific to just a few areas here in the mountains, and a good thing too. They have root systems that will destroy a habitat, will kill anything they can wrap around, and grow incredibly fast. I’ve spent the past 4 years clearing them as well as english ivy and vinca all over this place.

  50. Our neighbors have a Chinese wisteria bush/tree on their property, and that thing spreads like mad and gets heavy really fast once it climbs something. So far, it’s taken down two small trees, a couple of shrubs, a section of fencing, and a power line. They chopped it way back last year, but it’s re-growing, and now it’s inside their wall and climbing all over a bunch of miscellaneous shrubs. It’s beautiful, it smells wonderful, and the bees love it, but it’s ridiculously invasive.

  51. Another factor for many of these on this list is location location location. A plant is rarely invasive in its native space. It’s humans that are the causative factor. Please try to plant natives, more than not. If you don’t know, look up your local Native Plant Society, or perhaps your county Master Gardener program. Resources !

      • the native plant society here hosts one day every year a scavenger volunteer day. Anybody can volunteer …. take lists of local invasive plants and visit every nursery and big box store and point out the offending species. That Plant Police department is still underfunded so it’s up to the peeps to get it done !

  52. It appears to me that the major problem with exotics/invasives used in the US is that they usually have thousands of pretty flowers. Thousands of pretty flowers often translates into millions of seed. Wind, gravity, water, and animals transport these seed to the 4 corners of the (fill in the blank, lot, yard, block, town, state, etc,). And the problem is not noticed until they have spread to the point that they cannot be controlled economically.

    • I’ve used Glyphosate (round-up) in the past. it’ll kill what’s living, but you will probably have to come back the next year to finish it off because glyphosate isn’t soil active.

  53. Add “sawtooth oak” to this list. Hunters plant it on their land to increase acorn browse, but all they are doing is spreading more invasive acorn bearers. If you want to plant oaks for deer & turkey, plant lots of white oaks (white oaks, post oaks, overcup oaks, chestnut oaks, bur oaks,,etc) and do the US a favor and don;t plant the oriental, exotic sawtooth varieties.

      • Epic, as a natural resource manager and volunteer natural resource educator, I an continually amazed at how many states have an agency (usually, but not always) the Wildlife Management agencies, that promote the planting of exotic and/or invasive species for native wildlife, while the same states have another agency, usually an extension service (although some also promote exotic wildlife plantings) that discourage it. You’d think they could get on the same page. If you research a little deeper, I think you will find the same. Thanks for reading and thinking about my comment.

        • That is very interesting, I don’t know much about the local agencies that promote or discourage this type of thing. You’re right, it’s surprising that they can’t get on the same page. Government, huh? :p

          • also.it seems that Chinese wisteria can cross with our domestic wisteria, creating a hybrid that has increased vigor (read “can be more invasive”) than the original strains. Like the old butter commercial used to say. “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”…

          • you can graft an Asian pear on to a Callery/Bradford and it will produce nice large fruit. Guerilla gardners ought to do this in our public spaces.

          • However, if cold weather (or other calamity) kills the graft tissue, what grows are sprouts from the Callery pear root stock, which become scars upon our public places!

          • generally, anything that will pick up an acorn will eat them. Hungry animals don’t always discriminate between species of oaks, except that they seem to prefer most white oak group acorns over the red oak group species (I refer you to the post above for White oak group species). The white oak group acorns are usually a little larger, and have less bitter tannins that their red oak cousins.

        • We have a conundrum in North Carolina in that kudzu is/was encouraged for erosion control for ag, but it’s on the list (it too can grow a foot a day).

  54. The worst one I can think of the Chinese Tallow Tree. It has consumed much of our hay and cattle pastures in a very short time.

  55. Ardisia japonica (Christmasberry), is horribly invasive in the woodlands and along bayous, as is Firmiana simplex (Chinese Parasol tree). Another terrible pest is Trachelospermum asiaticum (Asian Jasmine) which will rapidly swallow up your entire garden, shrubs, and trees, and is extremely labor intensive to remove; it would be a nightmare in the woods.

  56. Thank you for the information tho I think it would be more powerful if you also included native alternatives for these ornamentals.

Leave a Comment