Today, I am starting a multi-part series of blogs regarding exotic invasives. These are plants from somewhere else that have become part of our wild landscape in Tennessee and are crowding out the plants that are native to the area. In each blog, I will discuss the origin of the plant, the naturalization process it went through, what plants it threatens, common locations, dangers of that plant, and how to get rid of it. Not necessarily in that order.
Tennessee has an organization devoted to informing people about exotic invasives and native plants called Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council. If a plant adapts to the local climate, exhibits rapid growth, matures quickly to flower and set seed, spreads rampantly and has no major pest or disease problems, it is an invasive plant. An exotic plant means is one that is not native to the area.
There are three types of privet that have made themselves at home in our backyards and wild places. They are variously named Japanese, Chinese and Common privet. Privets escaped from untrimmed hedges. As colonists came to this continent, many brought plants from Europe. Privet hedges are quite common in places like England and France where they are meticulously tended and trimmed. There is the key to the escape. When privet is allowed to flower and set fruit, birds flock to the berries. Through the bird's digestive process, privet seeds are scattered far and wide. The fragrant white blossoms can can escalate symptoms for seasonal allergy sufferers. Deer and other ruminants who forage the leaves, branches and berries of the privet are exposed to toxins in the plant. It is an attractive forage in the winter because it is an evergreen.
Privet is a midstory shrub that thrives in full to partial sun and can even grow in shade. In shady areas, it has a tendency to be leggy in appearance. It grows in many of the same places as Inkberry, Mountain Laurel, Devilwood, Limerock Arrowwood, Southern Waxmyrtle and Possumhaw Vibernum. Through rapidly spreading runners and berry production, privet quickly chokes out other plants in the same forest level.
I have tons of this stuff at the edges of my woods. It has also taken over areas that typically have hill cane growing. I noticed that the late frost we had this year caused the more tender growth to die back. That was very nice. But to get rid of it, you have to be diligent in removing it whenever you see it. Do not compost this plant! Branches, roots, stems and berries can all give rise to new plants. If you cut it back in the spring, cut after it has just put out a bunch of new growth. Cut the trunks back and soak with your choice of commercial chemical herbicide or diesel fuel. Do this when the weather is predicted to be clear and 72 degrees or better. Diesel fuel is considered to be a biologic or organic friendly control because it will breakdown into less toxic material. Commercial herbicides will not. Plant any of the above mentioned native plants in the place of the privet and give it a run for its money.
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