Asian invader


Now that most of our trees have lost their leaves we notice other plants in the native landscape. Especially in low areas the Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) dominates. Initially planted as an ornamental, this invasive olive relative has taken over many areas as has a related species the European or common privet (Ligustrum vulgare).

Small tightly spaced leaves emerge in pairs and are semi-evergreen to evergreen. Copious white aromatic flowers explode in mid to late spring. From these blooms numerous purplish fruits resembling small olives develop and ripen in the fall. Best growth is on the edges of woody areas. Plants tolerate significant shade, but in these places flowering is less to almost non-existent.

Chinese privet can grow up to 20 feet tall but is usually much shorter. Height isn’t the problem. It spreads like wildfire mostly from seeds dropped by birds. It’s very tolerant of wildfire too, since it prefers wet areas rarely damaged by it.

This dense shrub doesn’t have the reputation as kudzu, but it can dominate the lower layer of its habitat. This alters species composition and chokes out native plants. Privet shades out anything growing beneath it. Thousands of acres have been invaded by Chinese privet in North Carolina.

Young shoots and fruits make decent wildlife food, so its invasiveness is not a total disaster. It can be a major source of winter browse for whitetail deer when many other food sources are scarce. Bees love the blossoms. Honey yields and quality are good according to many apiculturists.

I’m not a fan of exotic species horning in on our native habitats, but if they do we can make the most of it. Chinese privet foliage makes an ideal greening material for floral arrangements. In early June the flowers also make great filler flowers too. Stems with prolific purple fruits can make interesting accents as well.

Bark teas from privet have been used for centuries to treat fever. Fruits have also been used in Asian medications for multiple ailments but beware. These fruits should not be consumed in large quantities as they contain toxins. Young shoots are safe to eat in small quantities, but they are last resort table fare.

Declaring war on them is a possibility, but they are a formidable adversary. Cutting them off or tilling them up is futile. They come back stronger than ever. The entire root must be removed or plants will continue to grow. For large specimens this is impossible.

Herbicide treatment is an option, but other species may be harmed. Weed killers containing glyphosate (Round-up) are effective and don’t persist long in the environment. Care must be taken not to spray non-target plants. This chemical is only effective during times of active growth.

I think the best way to kill large Chinese privet plants is a two-step process of cutting and immediately applying a concentrated glyphosate solution to the stumps. This lessens the possibility of harming other plants. Treatment can be a slow process, but it might be the best option. I’m not a big chemical guy, but often it’s necessary when exotic species take over.

Chinese privet thicket

Chinese privet thicket

Close-up of Chinese privet leaves

Close-up of Chinese privet leaves

Chinese privet: lower leaf surface (above) and upper leaf surface (below)

Chinese privet: lower leaf surface (above) and upper leaf surface (below)

Common or European privet

Common or European privet

 

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture in northeastern North Carolina.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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15 Responses to Asian invader

  1. tedmanzer says:

    Another exotic weed takes over the landscape.

  2. jordan2197 says:

    Asian invader
    most of our trees have lost their leaves, we also notice other plants in the native landscape. in low areas the chinese privite dominates here, too. it is initially planted as an ornamental, this invasive olive relative has taken over many areas as has a related species the European or common privet.
    Small tightly spaced leaves emerge in pairs and are semi-evergreen to evergreen. Copious white aromatic flowers explode in mid to late spring. From these blooms numerous purplish fruits resembling small olives develop and ripen in the fall. Best growth is on the edges of woody areas. Plants tolerate significant shade, but in these places flowering is less to almost non-existent.

  3. trevashley96 says:

    I don’t think that the Chinese Privet is such a bad thing. But I can see the disadvantages it would have on the other plants. It is a very pretty species though. Very nice to look at. Its not as plain as the other growth.

  4. this is really cool and interesting

  5. curtis24 says:

    The tree looks like a good tree to look at when the spring comes,also that it is a invasive tree species that is in low watery areas but there are disadvantages.

  6. ashleychory says:

    most of the asian trees have lost their leaves. In the low areas the chinese privite dominates here. it is initially planted as an ornamental. Small tightly spaced leaves emerge in pairs and are semi-evergreen to evergreen. From this numerous purplish fruits that looks like small olives develop and ripen in the fall. Best growth is on the edges of woody areas.

  7. Even though this is an exotic weed, it is beautiful in its own right, and really stands out. I think is nice to look at but there are the disadvantages to think about to.

  8. When most of the trees loose their leaves, the Chinese Privet dominates. Having Chinese Privets should be good to have so there are still plants there

  9. Morgan Murray says:

    Yes, this plant does take over the other plants but the fact that it supplies the wildlife with food from its fruits makes up for it. In the winter it can be hard for wildlife to find food but this plant is there to supply the lost food from the deciduous trees. I think the best way to control the growth of this plant is to use the two-step process. Maybe by eliminating some of them each year it won’t be as dominate.

  10. Sam DeLaVergne says:

    It’s really interesting learning that bark teas from privet have been used for centuries to treat fevers.

  11. I learned that this plant is spread so fast because birds carry the seeds and drop them as they fly by. These plants also like to grow in wet areas.

  12. when all the other trees loose there leaves this one keeps them.

  13. i really love this article on what it covers over.

  14. ITS REALLY COOL THAT THEY USE THIS FOR TEA TO HELP PEOPLE

  15. michaelacraincrain1 says:

    September 30, 2013 at 12:42 am

    this is really cool and interesting

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