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Seven Invasive Plant Species Every Mid-Atlantic Homeowner Should Know

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close up of spotted lanternfly invasive plant host

In the Mid-Atlantic region, several invasive plant species threaten local ecosystems, gardens, and landscapes. These non-native invasives spread quickly, outcompeting native flora and disrupting the natural balance. Homeowners need to recognize and manage these species to maintain a healthy garden.

Common Invasive Plant Species in the Mid-Atlantic: A Quick Guide for Homeowners

Invasive plant species have several common characteristics that allow them to spread and dominate an ecosystem. Many of these plants have an allelopathic nature. This means the plants release chemicals into the environment that inhibit the growth and development of surrounding plants. This can give these invasives a competitive advantage.

Common Qualities of Invasive Plants

  • High Reproductive Rate: Invasives often produce a large number of seeds. many can reproduce vegetatively through rhizomes or stolen, allowing them to spread quickly.
  • Rapid Growth and Maturation: Invasive plant species typically reach maturity faster than native plants and often grow quickly, outcompeting natives for sunlight, water, and nutrients.
  • Adaptability and Tolerance: Invasive plant species can thrive in many environments, solid types, moisture levels, and climates.
  • Few Natural Predators or Diseases: In their introduced environment, invasive plant and insect species don’t have any natural predators, herbivores or diseases that would normally keep their populations in check.

All of these traits make invasive plant and insect species formidable competitors in their new environment. Here are some common plants to watch out for:

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Honeysuckle is a vigorous, climbing vine with fragrant white to yellow flowers. It smothers native plants by blocking sunlight and absorbing soil nutrients. Manage it by regularly cutting back vines, applying herbicides to cut stems, and mulching heavily.

japanese honeysuckle invasive plant species
Photo by Daka on

Origin: East Asia, including Japan, Korea, and China.

Introduction to the U.S.: Japanese honeysuckle was introduced in the early 1800s as an ornamental plant and for erosion control. Its fragrant flowers and ability to thrive in various conditions made it popular for landscaping, but it quickly spread beyond intended areas.

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

english ivy non-native invasive plant

English Ivy, the bane of many homeowners, is an evergreen vine with glossy, dark green leaves. It damages trees, walls, and buildings and forms dense mats on the ground. Remove it by pulling or cutting the ivy and using herbicides on stubborn infestations.

Origin: Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa.

Introduction to the U.S.: English ivy was brought to North America by European settlers in the 18th century as an ornamental ground cover and for its aesthetic appeal in gardens. Its aggressive growth was underestimated, leading to its invasive spread.

Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria floribunda)

Wisteria, beautifully romantic and beloved by many, are climbing vines with cascading clusters of purple or white flowers. They start with breathtaking flowers. The trouble is they grow a lot…up to 10 to 15 feet in a single season. Managing them becomes more difficult as the years accumulate. They can strangle trees and shrubs, weighing them down and blocking sunlight. Control wisteria by cutting back vines, removing all root parts, and applying herbicides to prevent regrowth.

wisteria invasive plant

Origin: Wisteria sinensis originates from China, and Wisteria floribunda from Japan.

Introduction to the U.S.: Both species were introduced to the U.S. in the 19th century for their beautiful, cascading flowers. They were used in gardens and landscapes, but their rapid growth and ability to outcompete native plants soon became problematic.

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

This rose bush is a thorny shrub with clusters of small, white to pink flowers. It forms dense thickets that displace native vegetation. It is a common invasive plant species of the Mid-Atlantic and has become quite a nuisance. Cut back canes, apply herbicide to stumps, and consistently mow to prevent regrowth.

multiflora rose invasive plant

Origin: Eastern Asia, including Japan, Korea, and China.

Introduction to the U.S.: Multiflora rose was introduced in the late 1800s for use as a rootstock for ornamental roses. Later, in the 1930s, it was promoted by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service for erosion control, living fences, and wildlife habitat. Its aggressive nature led to widespread invasion.

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

This is a deciduous tree with large, compound leaves and a strong odor. It releases soil chemicals that inhibit other plants’ growth. Cut down the tree, treat the stump with herbicide, and regularly monitor for resprouting.

The Tree of Heaven is the host to the Spotted lanternfly, an invasive species of insect that is devastating to agriculture. (More on spotted lanternfly below).

Origin: China and Taiwan.

Introduction to the U.S.: Tree of Heaven was introduced in the late 1700s as an ornamental tree. Its ability to grow rapidly and thrive in urban environments made it popular. However, its invasive characteristics soon became apparent as it spread uncontrollably. It has made it’s way into the Mid-Atlantic as a common invasive plant species.

tree of heaven invasive plant species

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard is a biennial herb with heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers. It inhibits native plants’ growth and disrupts the soil ecosystem. Hand-pull plants before they set seed, and use herbicides for larger infestations.

Origin: Europe and parts of Asia.

Introduction to the U.S.: Garlic mustard was introduced in the mid-1800s as a culinary herb and for medicinal purposes. Its seeds spread easily, and it quickly escaped cultivation, becoming a widespread invasive species in forests and natural areas.

In Gambrill State Park, in Maryland, garlic mustard has taken over large areas. One of the major problems it creates is with local deer populations. They will not eat garlic mustard because it is bitter. When they eat the grass around it, the garlic mustard out-competes the native grasses and fills in the entire area. With less food to forage, the deer find their way into nearby yards.

garlic mustard invasive plant

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

Japanese Barberry is a striking plant, but its invasive nature makes it a significant threat to native ecosystems in the Mid-Atlantic region. A deciduous shrub, it is known for its dense, thorny branches and bright red berries that persist into winter. The leaves are small, and oval, and can range in color from green to deep red or purple, depending on the cultivar.

The bush reproduces by seeds that the birds carry, and also by rhizome sprouts as the branches touch the ground. The leaf litter changes the soil pH so that native plants can’t survive.

Many newer housing developments have used Japanese Barberry in their landscaping plans. The shrub creates dense thickets that can outcompete native vegetation. They alter the soil chemistry around them, making the soil less hospitable for native plants.

The worst thing about Japanese Barberry, in my opinion, is that the shrub is the host plant of the tick that spreads Lyme disease.

Origin: Japan and Eastern Asia.

Introduction to the U.S.: Japanese Barberry was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s as an ornamental plant. Its popularity grew due to its hardiness, attractive foliage, and berries. It was also used for erosion control and as a hedge plant because of its dense growth and thorns.

Japanese Barberry invasive plant

Invasive Spotted Lanternfly

The Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive insect native to China, India, and Vietnam. It is easily recognizable by its distinctive appearance: adults have grayish wings with black spots, and when their wings are spread, they reveal a striking red and black pattern. Nymphs are black with white spots and turn red before reaching adulthood. This insect primarily feeds on the sap of various plants and trees, causing significant damage.


The Spotted Lanternfly poses a severe threat to agriculture, forests, and residential landscapes in the Mid-Atlantic region. It feeds on over 70 plant species, including economically important crops such as grapes, apples, hops, and various hardwood trees. By feeding on sap, the Spotted Lanternfly weakens plants, making them more susceptible to disease and reducing crop yields. The excretion of honeydew by the insects promotes the growth of sooty mold, further harming plants and creating a nuisance in outdoor spaces.

Origin: China, India, and Vietnam.

Introduction to the U.S.: The Spotted Lanternfly was first detected in the United States in Pennsylvania in 2014. It is believed to have arrived as egg masses on imported goods, such as stone products. Since then, it has rapidly spread across several states in the Mid-Atlantic region due to its high reproductive rate and ability to hitchhike on vehicles and goods.

Management Tips

Managing the Spotted Lanternfly requires an integrated approach involving physical removal, chemical treatments, and public awareness:

  • Physical Removal: Scrape egg masses from trees and other surfaces and place them in a sealed bag with alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill the eggs. Capture and crush nymphs and adults when seen.
  • Chemical Control: Use insecticides as recommended by local agricultural extension services. Treatment should be targeted and should follow guidelines to minimize harm to non-target species and the environment.
  • Traps: Sticky bands can be placed around tree trunks to capture nymphs as they climb. Ensure bands are protected to prevent trapping non-target animals, such as birds and small mammals.
  • Public Awareness: Stay informed about quarantine zones and comply with regulations to prevent the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly. Inspect vehicles and goods for egg masses, especially when traveling from infested areas.

The Spotted Lanternfly is a highly destructive pest that threatens the Mid-Atlantic’s agriculture and ecosystems. Effective management requires community involvement and adherence to recommended control measures. Homeowners and gardeners can play a crucial role in controlling its spread by staying vigilant and taking prompt action against this invasive insect. For more detailed guidance, consult local extension services or environmental organizations.

spotted lanternfly stages invasive species

Know About Invasive Plant Species

Staying aware of common invasive plant species is crucial for homeowners in the Mid-Atlantic region. Invasive plants and insects, such as Japanese Honeysuckle, English Ivy, Wisteria, Multiflora Rose, Tree of Heaven, Garlic Mustard, Japanese Barberry, and the Spotted Lanternfly, pose significant threats to local ecosystems, agriculture, and garden landscapes. These species can rapidly outcompete native flora and fauna, leading to reduced biodiversity, weakened plant health, and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases.

Proactive management of these invasive species helps protect the natural beauty and ecological balance of your property and the wider community. By learning to identify these invaders, implementing effective control measures, and choosing native or non-invasive alternatives, homeowners can contribute to the preservation of local ecosystems. Regular monitoring and prompt action against invasive species are essential to prevent their spread and minimize their impact.

Consulting with local extension services and environmental organizations can provide valuable resources and guidance on managing invasive plant species. By staying informed and engaged, homeowners can play a vital role in safeguarding the environment for future generations. Protecting your garden and local ecosystems from invasive species is not just about maintaining aesthetic appeal; it is about fostering a healthier, more resilient environment for all.

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