Avoid Buying These Three Invasive Plant Species While Shopping at the Garden Center This Spring
Don't let their good looks fool you: Invasive plants from the nursery can be a menace. The quick growers displace native varieties, which are necessary habitats for local insects and birds, says Chuck Bargeron, director of the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia. Avoid these major offenders found at garden centers in some states—and for a comprehensive list, visit Invasive.org, a helpful invasive species identifier run by Bargeron's department.
Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica)
Native to Southeast Asia, Cogongrass was accidentally introduced to the southeast United States via packing material in the early 1900s, according to Invasive.org. While its markers include large leaves with pointed edges, the grass is best identified by its fuzzy cone-shaped head of flowers and seeds. Skip this variety if you see it while you shop: The aggressive invader forms dense, circular infestations that exclude all other vegetation.
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
If you live near water—wetlands, rivers, lake shores, or marshes—you might find purple loosestrife, which Invasive.org describes as a tall, multi-stemmed perennial, at your garden center; from July to October, the variety blooms into attractive pink or purple spike-like flowers. They may be objectively pretty, but they're bad news for native species, which they fully exclude. Worst of all, purple loosestrife are extremely prolific: Each plant can produce up to 2.5 million seeds per year, so they gain ground quickly.
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
This deciduous shrub may be small, but it invades a variety of habitats, from shaded woodlands and open fields to wetlands, notes Invasive.org. Shade tolerant and prolific (thanks to local birds who eat their berries and, therefore, spread the seeds), the bush forms dense mounds which push out other varieties or limit their access to sunlight. In some cases, this is desired: The Japanese barberry, first introduced to the United States in the 1800s as an ornamental, remains a popular choice for landscaping and hedges.