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Gardening Columns

Alternatives to Common Invasive Plants

First published on on April 24 , 2008, by Suzanne DeJohn

In my last column I raised the issue of invasive plants, and now I'd like to suggest some noninvasive options for our gardens. Below are some native ground covers, shrubs, trees, perennials, and vines that are attractive and well behaved in the landscape. The lists are by no means comprehensive, but they'll serve to show that there are many alternatives to common invasives -- what some people call "plant thugs."

The term "invasive" is hard to define, and just because a plant is native doesn't mean it can't pose problems. The native perennial bee balm (Monarda didyma), a mint relative, spreads quickly and will overtake most plants in its path. Native tall phlox (Phlox paniculata), evening primrose (Oenothera spp.), and queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra) can vigorously colonize a garden. All could be termed "native invasives." Most perennials multiply to some extent; however, nonnative plants often have an advantage because the forces (pests, temperature extremes, etc.) that keep them in check in their native habitat are missing here.

Remember that not all plants adapt to all growing environments -- sun or shade, dry or wet soil, etc. -- so be sure to match plants to your garden situation. And remember that these plants may take a little longer to get established than their vigorous (and invasive) alternatives.

Sources of Native, Noninvasive Plants
You may have to look a little harder to find native plants. Each state has a native plant society, and these are good starting points in the search to find appropriate plants for your landscape. Below I've included a list of our region's native plant societies. Another possible source is your state's department of natural resources. Some states have spring plant sales of native plants, often for special purposes such as stream bank restoration. Finally, an Internet search using your state and "native plants" as search terms, should provide some sources, as well as a wealth of information.

Here are some native plant alternatives to get you started.

Native, Noninvasive Ground Covers/Low-Growing Plants
Pussytoes (Antennaria dioica or A. planaginfolia), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), green-and-gold (aka goldenstar, Chrysogonum virginianum), running strawberry bush (Euonymus obovatus), wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera), Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum), creeping sedum (Sedum ternatum), and foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia).

Native, Noninvasive Shrubs
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), cinnamonbark (Clethra acuminata), Eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus), fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii and F. major), hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia and H. arborescens), drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), mock orange (Philadelphus inodorus), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), American Snowbell (Styrax americana), and many viburnums, including maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), witherod viburnum (V. cassinoides), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum), and American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum).

Native, Noninvasive Trees
Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), paw paw (Asimina triloba), river birch (Betula nigra), Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), yellowwood (Cladrastis kentuckea), pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina), umbrella tree (Magnolia tripetela), sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreumtupelo), tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), and black haw (Viburnum prunifolium).

Native, Noninvasive Perennials
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), false indigo (Baptisia australis), lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), joe-pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), ox-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), gayfeather (aka blazing star, Liatris spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta).

Native, Noninvasive Vines
Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), virgin's bower (Clematis virginiana), Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), and American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens).

State Native Plant Societies
Alabama Wildflower Society:
Arkansas Native Plant Socity:
Georgia Native Plant Socity:
Kentucky Native Plant Society:
North Carolina Native Plant Society:
Oklahoma Native Plant Society:
South Carolina Native Plant Society:
Tennessee Native Plant Society:
Native Plant Society of Texas:
Virginia Native Plant Society:

Common Invasives
Choose alternatives or less invasive cultivars of these plants:
Ground covers. Avoid bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), crown vetch (Coronilla varia), English ivy (Helix hedera), mints (Mentha spp.), Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), and periwinkle (Vinca minor).

Shrubs. Avoid Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii, butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.), Russian olive (Eleagnus angustifolium), Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), burning bush (Euonymus alata), privet Ligustrum spp.), and bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.), including Belle, Amur, Morrow's, and Tatarian honeysuckle. Also multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and roses grafted onto multiflora rootstock.

Trees. Avoid Norway maple (Acer platanoides), Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), Empress or Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa), and Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana).

Perennials. Avoid nonnative bamboos, goutweed (aka snow-on-the-mountain, Aegopodium podagraria), pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana and C. jubata), cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), and Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis).

Vines. Avoid porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), English ivy (Hedera helix), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), kudzu (Pueraria lobata), and Chinese and Japanese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis and W. floribunda).

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