Our Most Hated Invasive Plants

These and other invasive plants are destroying habitat and elimating food sources for all the creatures living here with us. This demands our attention, both on our own properties and in our parks. Please help us limit and reduce the spread by removing non-native invasive plants on your property. We hope the informaion below will be helpful.

English ivy – Helix hedra

The problem is so bad that some ivy invasions can be seen in aerial photos.

This vine is a terror, a very aggressive invader of natural areas that threatens every plant from the ground up.  It eventually smothers everything in its path, including trees.   In addition, this plant changes soil chemistry and produces chemicals that prevent other plants from sprouting and growing.  Some areas of our parks are becoming ecological wastelands in part due to English ivy and some of the other plants below and this needs our attention.  

As the vine grows it searches for a vertical surface, usually a tree, to climb so that it can mature, forming flowers, fruit and seed.  Birds then eat the berries, fly away to perch somewhere else, and poop the seed where it will sprout and repeat the process.  A large ivy covered tree can produce many thousands of berries.  

IMPORTANT: Keeping ivy off of trees is key to limiting the spread to other places and saving our natural areas.  

More information available on page 133, Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

Wintercreeper Euonymus fortuneii

Creeping into a park near you….

Wintercreeper is a fast growing, highly invasive landscape vine (juvenile form) or shrub (adult form), that was introduced to the US in the 1900’s as an ornamental ground cover.  An evergreen with glossy, dark green, elliptical leaves it can overtake and kill trees with dense growth that prevents photosynthesis, resulting in the death of the tree. Like English Ivy, wintercreeper spreads in its juvenile form by producing rootlets that sprout new growth when it comes into contact with moist soil. In woodland settings, wintercreeper forms dense mats that crowd out native plants. It can quickly grow up trees to reach the top of the canopy.With more sun at the canopy top, Wintercreeper matures, flowers and produces seeds. The seeds are dispersed by birds and  small animals.  The berries seen in the fall can also be a source of spread.

IMPORTANT: This plant is a very good example of why one should be careful when it comes to disposing of invasive plants. If wintercreeper is discarded in or near a wooded area such as a park, it could easily take root and become established.

Photo credit: Privet chinese James H. Miller & Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org

More information available on page 131, Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

Chinese Privet    Ligustrum sinense

Nectar and berries provide very little nutritional value. Birds feeding on the berries become malnourished.

A very common invasive species in our area is Chinese privet. It is an aggressive non-native species that can be found in just about any soil type, in sun to part shade. A semi-evergreen ornamental with small, glossy, elliptical leaves and opposite branching. It blooms from May to June with small, white flowers that have a very distinctive odor.  It has black to blue black fruits that occur in drupes at the tips of the branches, maturing in late August to September.

Brought to the US for use as hedgerows in the 1850s, privet has thrived and can now be found in forests, woodland edges, disturbed areas and your yard. Spreading from the roots privet can form dense,impenetrable thickets that shade out native shrubs and perennials.


Note: There a several species of Ligustrum that are used in landscaping. None of them are native to the US andsome of them are invasive. Please do not plant.

Photo credit: James H. Miller & Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org

More information available on page 96, Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

Japanese stiltgrass – Microstegium vimineum

The plant with hitchhiker seeds.

This annual grass produces many seeds that stick to fur, clothing, shoes, bike tires, almost anything!  It spreads rapidly and displaces native plants in natural areas, becoming a problem in many parks since the seeds area spread so easily. Did you know you can bring some seed home to your yard after visiting a park?   Shallow rooted and easy to pull, removal should be done before seeds form in late summer.   Please look for this plant in your yard this summer and remove it immediately if found. Note the white stripe down the middle of each blade.

Photo credit: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, Bugwood.org

More information available on page 43, Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

Tree of Heaven – Ailanthus altissima …or perhaps a devil of a tree?

Ailanthus altissima is an incredibly adaptable and fast-growing tree originating in Asia. Commonly referred to as “tree-of-heaven”, it is more aptly named “tree-from-hell” by those trying to slow down its spread. A female Ailanthus tree can produce over 300,000 seeds per year
which are dispersed by the wind and the roots and fallen leaves release a chemical which is toxic
to many native plants. As a result, Ailanthus can quickly take over an area.

Trying to eliminate trees by cutting them down only makes matters worse unless herbicide is applied immediately to
the cut stump. This is because a damaged tree will send up multiple new trunks from the roots
and create an impenetrable thicket.

Before attempting to remove Ailanthus, be sure to consult the informative factsheet from Blue Ridge PRISM: https://blueridgeprism.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Ailanthus-factsheet-Sept-2021.pdf.

Also, please be aware that there are several native plants (black walnut, ash, and sumac) that look similar to Ailanthus due to having large compound leaves with many leaflets. Ailanthus differentiated from other species by looking for the small teeth at the base of each leaflet.

More information available on page 112, Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Are

Tips for Control or Removal of Invasive Species

Additional links for both invasive and native plant information

Plant RVA Natives

Seedlings and small plants are very easy to remove. Don’t let them get bigger!

Clockwise from top left: English ivy, privet, wintercreeper, Ailanthus, Japanese stilt grass.

Photo credits: Ivy: Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org Privet : James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org. Wintercreeper: Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org Ailanthus: Ohio State Weed Lab , The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org Stiltgrass: Wilipedia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.