Bay Journal

What not to plant

Virginia releases list of 90 invasive plant species that shouldn't have a place in your garden

  • By Whitney Pipkin on March 04, 2015
Beach vitex is often planted to help with erosion, but it takes over beaches instead. It is an invasive species about which Virginia is increasingly concerned. (Photo by Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Autumn olive is another species invasive to Virginia. (Photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

We know that planting something right now might involve shoveling the yard first, but spring is just around the corner (so they say). Whether you’re planting your garden this month or just dreaming about it, Virginia has a friendly reminder: don’t plant invasive species.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has released a list of 90 invasive plant species — from tree of heaven to porcelain berry — for which gardeners and conservation staff alike should be on the lookout. Of these species, 58 can be found for sale at some home and garden stores in the state. 

While kudzu, bamboo and Japanese barberry might even be on the shelves, they can wreak havoc on the diversity of local ecosystems. 

“Gardeners should think twice about planting anything that might be aggressive in their yard, especially if they live near a park or forest,” said Kevin Heffernan, a Natural Heritage stewardship biologist with DCR.

Heffernan recommends that gardeners take this list — or their iPhones — to the store while they shop for new additions. They can also use the department's native plant finder to identify species that should be flourishing in the state. 

And invasive plants are, by nature, aggressive. They grow rapidly, outcompete native species and are costly to remove and control. That’s why it’s easier to prevent planting them in the first place.

Many of the invasive species that are most widespread in Virginia — Japanese stiltgrass, kudzu and common reed (aka phragmites) — arrived as packing material or seed contaminants and have damaged natural areas as they become more widespread.

On the list from Virginia DCR, which includes several species that present problems regionally, are plants like beach vitex that some property owners plant thinking it will help control erosion on beaches. Instead, the invasive plant ends up taking over beaches, similar to the way English ivy takes over a building.

Beach vitex is one of the “early detection species” listed with the invasives, because it is not yet widely established in Virginia but could be soon. The ten species listed in this category are established in areas with similar habitats to Virginia or in nearby states.

“People who spot these in Virginia should notify DCR,” a press release said.

DCR scientists are directing more of their attention toward invasive species, which can choke out natural plants and ecosystems. View or print the color-coated list of Virginia species to avoid at this link.

Learn more about the work of the Virginia Invasive Species Work Group at

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About Whitney Pipkin
Whitney Pipkin, writes about food, agriculture and the environment. She lives in Alexandria, VA, and is a fellow of the Institute for Journalists of Natural resources and blogs at
Read more articles by Whitney Pipkin


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