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Invasive species draw the wrath of many of us who care about the natural world. For residents of the southern states, Chinese privet is probably the most despised plant of all. It certainly is mine. For all the talk about kudzu, that plant doesn't even come close to the destructive power of privet.

Privet is one of those "perfect storm" invaders. It thrives under a wide range of habitats. It can grow on hilltops or creek bottoms, full sun or deep shade. A single plant can put out thousands of seeds per year. Some seeds drop to the ground to produce dense thickets. Some are distributed far and wide by birds. And in creek bottoms where privet is at its very worst, flood waters carry seeds relentlessly downstream. A single home site at the headwaters of a stream can infest the entire drainage over a span of time. Privet spreads from human habitation into the nearby forests like a green cancer, overwhelming nearly everything in its path.

Privet can reach 25 feet in height, forming dense stands that exclude most native plant growth. To make it a true forester's nightmare, vines such as muscadine and greenbrier weave through the privet stems, binding the mass together. Blackberries often grow along the edges, virtually hurling their thorns at anyone who dares to enter.

Amazingly, privet is still sold at garden centers, usually under the genus name Ligustrum. Do the native plants in your part of the world a favor. Don't ever purchase Ligustrum for any reason. And if it grows on your property, get rid of it.

My most recent forestry project took me to lands west of Atlanta. Some large parcels of timberland still exist, especially as you gain distance from the city. But many are surrounded by subdivisions whose yards are full of non-native plants. Unbeknownst to most of those residents of suburbia, the greenery they put next to their houses is slowly overwhelming the adjacent woodlands. I witness that invasion day after day, year after year, in a way that few others can see it.

When I wander the forests of the urban-rural interface, I can see the silent battle being played out over millions of acres of land. From a distance, it appears to be a world at peace. Closer inspection reveals a landscape at war with invaders. Privet is winning.

This diary is dedicated to the victims of the privet invasion. Take a good look. If the spread of privet continues unabated, some of these fantastic native plants could become threatened or endangered within the next few decades.

The enemy:

Creeks without privet. These scenes are disappearing, one watershed at a time.
umbrella magnolias along creek
Georgia creek
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
red buckeye
Pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule)
pink lady's slipper
Bashful wakerobin, or Catesby's trillium (Trillium catesbaei)
Trillium catesbaei
Eastern sweetshrub (Calycantyus floridus)
eastern sweetshrub
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
Umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala)
umbrella magnolia, looking up
Umbrella magnolia in bloom
Umbrella magnolia in bloom
tiger swallowtail and creek
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
button bush and butterfly
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
mountain laurel
Don't tread on me!
If any of my species are incorrect, or if you wish to identify ones without labels, feel free to add your comments. I am not a fern expert, so I left them alone.

Thank you for following me on the tour of native plants. Your comments are welcomed.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sat May 04, 2013 at 09:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kos Georgia.

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