A great way to keep invasive plants out of your yard is to prevent them from getting established in the first place. Not to mention, having an invasive plant in your yard will require a lot more gardening time than you bargained for. Invasive plants or non-native species that spread out of control cause a never-ending cycle of hand-pulling, digging, and herbicides.
Besides being an annoyance from a gardening perspective, invasive plants can also harm the environment, economy, or even human health. Invasive plants compete with native plants for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space. Therefore, they can diminish wildlife habitats, reduce plant diversity, and lower the quality of life of other species. It’s fair to say, invasive plants are the dementors of the plant world.
Consider doing some research before you head to the nearest nursery and begin your next gardening adventure. Although many species pose problems, they’re not considered universal. You should consult your local Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which maintains a list of invasive plants, to determine which are invasive in your area.
You can expect invasive plants to vary from state to state, but here are five common North American varieties to watch out for.
1. Japanese Barberry/Berberis Thunbergii
Originally from Japan and eastern Asia, the Japanese Barberry was introduced to North America during the 1800s. Besides being ornamental, the shrub was also promoted as a replacement for common Barberry, which harbored black stem rust, a disease of wheat.
Japanese Barberry has dense, prickly thickets that spread out, displacing and competing with other native trees and plants. In addition, Japanese Barberry has been linked to an increased risk for Lyme disease in the Northeastern U.S. However, it is possible to find native alternatives such as dwarf fothergilla, highbush blueberry, New Jersey tea, and Virginia sweetspire.
2. Linden Viburnum/Viburnum Dilatatum
Linden Viburnum is native to Korea and eastern Asia. Invasive varieties such as Linden Viburnum are often found in the mid-Atlantic region from New York to Virginia. Planting Linden Viburnum is never a wise choice, since it can quickly take over your landscape, growing up to 15 feet tall.
In turn, its thickets shade native shrubs and smaller trees, disrupting native ecosystems. Several native shrubs–such as American cranberry bush, Southern arrowwood, maple leaf viburnum, red elderberry, and winterberry–would be excellent substitutes.
3. Bradford Pear/Pyrus Calleryana
Originally native to China and Taiwan, the Pyrus calleryana, also known as the Callery pear, is considered an invasive species. One reason this tree was so sought after was not only its beauty but also its ability to grow quickly and cope with a range of environmental conditions, including urban areas, drought, heat, and air pollution.
Unfortunately, it was soon discovered that the Callery pear was quite problematic. The white blossoms, which cover the tree in the spring, emit a putrid smell when they are at their peak, similar to that of a decaying animal.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to avoid this tree, know that it’s also susceptible to fireblight, a disease that causes plants to appear scorched by fire. Avoid the Pyrus calleryana and choose another option such as serviceberry or shadbush.
4. Eulalia Grass/Miscanthus Sinensis
Eulalia Grass may look harmless on the surface, but in actuality, it is a nightmare waiting to happen. It is only a matter of time before this elegant, sweeping fountain-like clump of grass grows out of control.
In addition to displacing other vegetation, often found on pastures, forest edges, or beaches, this grass is highly flammable. That’s right, this seemingly innocuous plant poses a major fire hazard if planted near buildings. As a safe alternative, prairie dropseed, Indian grass, switchgrass, or big bluestem would be excellent options.
5. Asiatic Bittersweet/Celastrus Orbiculatus
Asiatic Bittersweet is one invasive plant you never want to discover in your yard. Native to eastern Asia, this plant is notorious for being an annoyance due to the way it smothers other plants and uproots trees.
Aside from that, the berries often found entangled in the whimsy climbing vines are highly toxic to cats and dogs. So, while the vines of this invasive plant have a notably ornamental appearance, they are rather destructive. As alternatives, vines such as trumpet honeysuckle or American wisteria would be better choices.
These five invasive plants are common, but it’s far from an exhaustive list. It’s important to be in the know when it comes to native versus invasive plant species. Otherwise, a trip to the greenhouse could turn your landscaping project into a gardening nightmare.