Debbie Clark

We have all heard about those terrible invasive plants like kudzu, wisteria, butterfly bush, bamboo, vinca, English ivy and many more. Here in the south you can drive down the road and see what these plants have done to our forest and home landscapes. How did this happen? 

When a plant is growing in its own native environment the climate, terrain, animals or insects keep it under control. Removal of that plant from its natural environment and moving it to another environment can kill it, it grows or it gets out of control due to no natural predators or climate conditions to control it.

Kudzu was introduced at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 from Japan as an ornamental for shading porches. Later it was used as a ground cover plant for erosion control. In the United States the cold weather of the north keeps it under control. However here in the south where it is warmer it survives without anything to feed on it or control it. It covers up everything it touches and grows very rapidly. 

Many of our plants found in our home gardens come from other countries. Plant hunters search the world for new and exciting plants. These plants can be undiscovered and growing in the wild or as mutations in the wild. Some are found in home gardens or hybridized by a grower. When they are discovered, they are propagated or hybridized with good results or possible bad results. Hybridizing can create new and exciting plants for our gardens with better resistance to pest, climate conditions or better growth. Some new species can be created or some annuals and bi annuals can become perennials. Hybridizing can also cause problems, like pollen that insects cannot use, genetic defects, sterility, no flowers and premature death of the plant. 

Plants that are hybridized take years of observation and growing before they are released to become part of the nursery trade and eventually in your garden. Thanks to hybridization some invasive plants have been hybridized and created into a new varieties that are not invasive like sterile butterfly bushes that do not produce seed.

Can plants from the United States become a problem in other countries? Yes, they can. Native plants that are grown in the United States can be shipped to other countries and become invasive in their new environment.  

So what does a gardener need to do? First learn to identify invasive plants on your property and remove them. Plants like burning bush, leather leaf mahonia, kudzu, English ivy, butterfly bush and wisteria to name just a few. These plants spread or spread seeds and take over gardens and forest. When purchasing plants, ask your local nursery and do your research on which plants you should purchase for your garden. Beware when purchasing plants from catalogs that say “aggressive grower” or “fast growing”. It may not be a plant you will want. 

In short, do your homework before purchasing a plant, do not dig up invasive plants from the forest to plant into your garden and if you have invasive plants in your landscape or woods, consider removing them.

Mahonia is a pretty garden plant, but not the ‘leather leaf’ variety which is invasive from Asia and found in our forest. Look for the noninvasive types for your landscape that are western United States natives. 

This property is covered with Kudzu which has covered the ground, trees and existing landscape. Kudzu can grow about a foot per day.

Butterfly bush does attract the butterflies but they can be invasive. Look for plants that are sterile when purchasing.

Debbie Clark is a Master Gardener, Lake Lure Flowering Bridge volunteer and LLFB board member. Visit her Facebook site for more gardening at “Hickory Nut Gorge Gardeners”.