Is It Invasive?

Be careful when bringing home new plants. Some "bad boys" of the garden will muscle in and take over, crowding out everything else.

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©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of University of California, Riverside Botanic Garden

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Nicknamed "the vine that ate the South", kudzu - which it's hard to imagine anyone planting now - was first used in the U.S. in 1876 for erosion control and livestock fodder. This Asian native can grow a foot a day, engulfing everything in its path. It's almost impossible to eradicate. The lesson: beware of planting non-natives, unless they're recommended for your region.

Fountain Bamboo

Unless you have a hungry panda to feed--make that a lot of hungry pandas--planting bamboo is a terrible idea. This giant grass is almost impossible to control or eradicate, even though it makes a fast-growing privacy screen. If you still want to plant bamboo, look for the clumping varieties; even then, consider keeping them in containers. Fountain bamboo (Fargesia nitida) is a clumping, slow-growing species.

Moroccan Mint

Moroccan mint grows as a perennial and is considered an herb. It grows best over several years. Like all mints, Moroccan Mint, should be confined to a pot. Mints grow better in pots with lots of surface area rather than lots of depth.


Sometimes used as an evergreen hedge or shrub, privet (Ligustrum) can grow to 30 feet, forming dense thickets and overrunning native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife. Try viburnums, hollies, boxwoods or Inkberry (Ilex glabra) instead, or ask your local garden center for alternatives.


Wisteria is spectacular, with long ropes of white, violet or purple blooms. But Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), imported here in 1816, can twine around trees and other plants, strangling them to death. Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda) can also invade, while W. frutescens, or American wisteria, is a less aggressive native. Ask your local extension service agent if there are wisterias you can plant in your area.


Some blackberry species are invasive in parts of the world, including the Pacific Northwest, where they create dense, prickly thickets. These plants spread underground and form roots where their long canes contact the soil. Luckily for berry lovers everywhere, there are cultivated species that are easier to manage. Look for them online or at garden centers. 

Yellow Loosestrife

Don't confuse this pretty wildflower, yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata), with thug-like purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Purple loosestrife is an exotic that spreads along marshes and lakes, elbowing out cattails and other wetland plants until ducks, turtles, frogs and other wildlife lose their habitat.

Boston Ivy

The brilliant fall colors of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) earn the vines a place in many landscapes. Sometimes, though, this vigorous perennial, which can grow to 50 feet, doesn't know when to quit, clinging to wood or bricks, climbing into gutters, and creeping under siding. Removing the tenacious vines can damage many surfaces. Try it on a trellis, stone wall or chain link fence, and prune often to manage its size.

Parrots Feather

Parrots Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) is a popular plant for freshwater ponds and aquariums, but it causes severe damage to lakes and streams when it escapes -  or if you throw the plants into a body of water to get rid of them. If you're cleaning the plants out of your pond or tank, put them in the sun to dry out and die before disposing of them.


Climbing honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) perfumes the air with its flowers, which are hummingbird magnets. But it's wildly invasive, overrunning roadsides, forests, gardens, and fields in sun or shade. Look for native honeysuckles or non-invasive species or varieties instead; your extension service office can help. Trumpet honeysuckle (L. sempervirens) is a great alternative.

Water Lettuce

Like parrots feather, water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) is often used in garden ponds. The problem is that it reproduces rapidly, and gardeners tend to toss their extra plants into nearby waterways. As the plants continue to grow, they can block boats, clog canals and reduce the oxygen level in the water, causing fish and other marine life to perish. Treat unwanted water lettuce plants like parrots feather, and leave them in the sun to die before discarding them.

Prickly Pear

We often think of non-natives as invasives, but native plants can overtake an ecosystem, too. Prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) originated in the southwestern U.S. (as well as Mexico and other areas), but this drought-tolerant tough guy now grows into impassable thickets in other parts of the country. Experts vary in whether they call it a problem plant or a valuable one; it provides food for wildlife, but it can also overtake their habitat. Check with your extension service office if you're thinking of growing it, or keep it in containers.

English Ivy

Often used as a groundcover, English ivy (Hedera helix) climbs like crazy, reaching to 50 feet or more. As it grows, it chokes out other plants and even snakes into the canopies of trees, slowly killing them. On the other hand, English ivy can be used to form a living screen, and there are attractive varieties that make good houseplants. This evergreen is invasive, so if you grow it, you'll need to pull, prune, mow or spray with herbicides for control.