Invasive And Aggressive Plants: Don’t Sell Them, Even If They’re Pretty, Armitage Says

People are very upset at plants like kudzu. Kudzu is a running joke, thought of as a “crazy aunt,” but that crazy aunt, like deer, is cute until it takes over.

As an industry, we can shrug our shoulders and blame the USDA for something so monumentally disastrous to native ecosystems. However, if you haven’t been following or involved with the invasive plant committee in your state, you may be surprised what they are considering to be invasive — we have reached the tipping point with invasive plants in many states.


The truth of the matter is that while kudzu may be the poster child of the invasive plant movement, many of the plants messing up our ecosystems are the result of ornamentals gone bad. Plants that once seemed benign garden plants are strangling entire areas. And we are still selling them!

Ignorance Is No Excuse

I was at a box store early this spring that was happily selling bedding impatiens that will likely die from downy mildew. I thought we had at least let retailers know that the more we sell today that dies, the less we sell tomorrow. Obviously not. What is the point?

This is not only a box store problem. We are still selling English ivy by the truckload — people are still using it as a mainstay for groundcovers. It is on the invasive plant list in many states and should be on in many more. The problem is not that English ivy goes to seed in a few years and ends up in the woods; it is much more insidious. When properties are sold, or the ivy is allowed to climb, it will reseed. It may take 20 years but it will happen. Think it is not your responsibility because you won’t be around — poppycock! Don’t sell the stuff!

Why are we still selling Chinese wisteria when we have an equally beautiful native species? The excuse of ignorance is no longer acceptable. Don’t sell it! Have you seen the thousands of pear seedlings on the side of the woods resulting from ‘Bradford’ pears? This is no longer a secret — we know that pear seedlings will outcompete native species. Why sell it? Is it because we are too lazy to learn about substitutes? I can go on about nandina, eleagnus and privet, all still being sold, all like crack cocaine to the environment.

To some readers, I likely sound like a native-crazy person on a soapbox — keening about the sins of “exotics.” That is not even close to the point; non-native plants have kept us fresh and viable. I am simply saying do your homework, find non-invasive groundcovers, vines and shrubs — native, non-native — it doesn’t matters. This is not a tiny problem anymore. It is a huge issue being debated at every level of government.

Take Out The Plant Thugs

A subset of the “invasive” problem is the issue of plant thugs, often politely referred to as aggressive plants. Examples may be evening primrose, bishop weed, bee balm, artemisia and of course — purple loosestrife. All pretty, some native, some non-native, but once planted they will quickly be a headache for all gardeners/landscapers.

Do we really need a golden-leaf cultivar of evening primrose? Regardless of its apparent beauty, it still becomes a nightmare after two years. Why do I still see ‘Limelight’ artemisa and the most nauseating plant of all time — chameleon flower — still being sold? They will turn gardeners off faster than kudzu. Don’t do it!

Do not tell me you don’t know — there are lists after lists in books, online and almost anywhere you care to do research. While I understand there are no set definitions of thuggery, I bet everyone knows of at least a half dozen, if not more, thugs that you would not give to your mother. Please don’t sell them to my daughters. Ignorance, laziness and apathy don’t cut it when such behavior hurts us all.

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Avatar for Kelly Kelly says:

Many thanks for making this a public discussion. . . and a charge of accountability, Dr. Armitage. This IS a major issue. I can point to the fabulous stand of Lonicera japonica / Japanese Honeysuckle in a property that neighbors our home and which pervades our entire county. “It smells so nice!,” according to people who don’t know better. . . or who refuse to manage it properly, much like the Eleagnus that you referred to. The fact is that WE are the professionals in the plant trade. It is OUR job to be just that: professionals. None of us is perfect. At any time, we may make a mistake, but we are responsible to be as knowledgeable as possible and to act accordingly. The National Mulch and Soil Council took this position over a decade ago with regard to quality and integrity standards in professional and retail soilless media, and it has paid. I am certain beyond doubt that self-regulation and accountability will be far less costly and onerous than will government mandate–and those will come if we abdicate professionalism.