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US National Arboretum


Kick the Invasive Exotic Gardening Habit with
Great Native Plant Alternatives

Images of suggested native plants

It’s time to eradicate those unruly invasives from your garden and add some new choices to your plant inventory. Famous for stepping beyond garden boundaries, invasive exotics wreak havoc on natural areas. We’ve all seen how English ivy smothers wildflowers and topples shade trees or how Japanese honeysuckle literally strangles shrubs and small trees. Leaving old garden standards behind is difficult but necessary if our natural parks, forests, and fields are to have a future.

Invasive plants turn into landscape thugs by out-competing the surrounding natives. In the mid-Atlantic region, they tend to put their leaves out earlier in the spring and lose them later in the fall than their native counterparts. This extended growth period gives them a significant advantage over the native species. In addition, these plants have no natural enemy—neither insect nor disease—and quickly produce abundant offspring. Many invasive plants are unpalatable to deer and quickly take over where deer are abundant.

Before choosing a native plant alternative, first think about the characteristics of the invasive plant you are replacing. Using Japanese honeysuckle as an example, its sweet fragrance or vining habit might be the desired characteristics. So, get rid of the honeysuckle and replant with fragrant summer bloomers like sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, a tree, and add the summer-blooming leatherflower vine, Clematis viorna, if you like the vine habit. The new combination gives you everything you liked about the honeysuckle without its devastating weediness.

If you’re ready to look for some great native plants, the following list of tough alternatives should help. Though the list includes very resilient perennials and shrubs, they still must be cared for in their first year or two, and then they can tough it out with minimal care. To view many of these plants in a garden setting, visit the Fern Valley Native Plant Collection.

Problem Plant

Desirable Characteristics

Great Alternatives
[Click on click icon for image icon for Native Plant image]

Japanese Wisteria

showy flowers, fragrance

woodland phlox, Phlox divaricatus
sweet azalea, Rhododendron canescens
coast azalea, Rhododendron atlanticum
American wisteria, Wisteria frutescens

Japanese Honeysuckle

fragrant flowers

leatherflower, Clematis viorna
Carolina jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens
trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana
purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnataclick icon for image

English Ivy

Drought Tolerant Evergreen

plantain-leaved sedge, Carex plantagineaclick icon for image
marginal woodfern, Dryopteris marginalis
woodland aster, Eurybia divaricatusclick icon for image
alumroot, Heuchera villosa
creeping mint, Meehania cordata
Allegheny spurge, Pachysandra procumbensclick icon for image
creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides

Autumn Olive

Drought Tolerant

strawberry bush, Euonymus americanusclick icon for image
wax-myrtle, Myrica cerifera
meadowsweet, Spiraea latifolia
mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium


Cheap/Nice Fruit

strawberry bush, Euonymus americanusclick icon for image
shrubby St. Johnswort, Hypericum prolificum
winterberry, Ilex verticillata
deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum
mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium

Purple Loosestrife

Long Bloom Season/Wet Tolerant

swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
sweet pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia
purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
gayfeather, Liatris spicata
grass-leaved blazing star, Liatris pilosa
green-headed coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata
New York ironweed, Vernonia novaboracensisclick icon for image

Miscanthus species

Strong Vertical and Fall/Winter Interest

split-beard bluestem, Andropogon ternarius
switchgrass, Panicum virgatum
sugarcane plumegrass, Saccharum giganteum
little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium
Indiangrass, Sorghastrum nutansclick icon for image

Lesser Celandine

Early Color

spring beauty, Claytonia virginica
yellow ragwort, Senecio aureus
Other spring ephemerals, if nursery propagated

Asian Bittersweet

Showy Fruits

American bittersweet, Celastrus scandens
Virginia rose, Rosa virginiana


Fast Grower/Colorful Fruits

gray dogwood, Cornus racemosa
Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
swamp haw viburnum, Viburnum nudum

Shrubby honeysuckle

Replant after removal

spicebush, Lindera benzoin
highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum
arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum

Burning Bush Euonymus

Fall Color

fringed bluestar, Amsonia ciliata
Hubricht’s bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii
witch-alder, Fothergilla gardenii
oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia
fetterbush, Leucothoe racemosaclick icon for image
swamp haw, Viburnum dentatum
arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum nudum

Note: This list is based upon invasive plants in the mid-Atlantic region. For more information on invasive plants in your region, please check out the following web sites:

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Last Updated   March 18, 2005 10:39 AM
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