Buyer Beware: Invasive Plants in the Landscape

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The Lee County Bradford Pear Bounty is coming up on Saturday, October 28, 2023. As we approach the event, we are going to take some time to highlight how invasive species impact our modern landscapes.


Remove any callery pears on your property by then and you can get free replacement trees, up to five trees. Learn more about the program 


Gardeners and land managers are always learning something new from the spaces they manage. Nature, plants and animals going about their lives and processes add rhythm and interest to our management tasks. With this new learning comes new information and change, and the need to adapt. Invasive plant species are the case and point to this concept. While humans have been moving plants around with them for thousands of years, over the last two hundred years humans have been moving plants around the world at record speeds. We love our landscape plants from around the world, but some of them have gotten too comfortable. This movement coupled with a changing climate has created a perfect environment for some of our favorite non-native landscape plants to “go bad”.

Are invasive plant species really that big of a problem?

An invasive plant species is defined as “a species that (a) is nonnative to a specified geographic area, (b) was introduced by humans (intentionally or unintentionally), and (c) does or can cause environmental or economic harm or harm to humans (Iannone, et al. 2020).” The Federal definition echoes this from 1999: “Invasive species means an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health (Executive Order 13112).”

A study in 2021 found that invasive species have cost the North American economy at least US$1.26 trillion between 1960 and 2017, and economic costs have climbed over recent decades, averaging US$2 billion per year in the early 1960s to more than US$ 26 billion per year in the 2010s (Crystal-Ornela et al.). It is hard to quantify the damage caused by invasive species because of how complex the ecological and economic effects are. Crystal-Ornela found that cumulatively (from 1960–2017) cost the agriculture sector US$527.07 billion and the forestry sector US$34.93 billion (2021). Reports on the global economic costs over the last 50 years estimate that invasive species are responsible for a minimum of US$1.288 trillion (2017 US dollars) in damages (Zenni 2021).

Unfortunately, invasive plant species are everyone’s problem. Plants and animals don’t recognize human-drawn property lines and political boundaries. All they see is the patchwork of climate, habitat, and seasons. When one person has invasive species on their property it is only a matter of time before that species can move into the surrounding area. Sometimes that is one year, sometimes a couple of months.

So, when a non-native plant has all of its reproductive needs met, creates viable seed, that seed can be spread by existing dispersal methods, can outcompete in an ecological niche in a local native habitat, and has no predators or diseases to keep it in check, we have the perfect storm of invasive plant species. It may seem like a lot of conditions to meet, but it happens faster than you think and can happen before we realize sometimes.


Our Worst Landscape Plant Offenders in Lee County

  • Autumn Olive– Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.
  • Callery (Bradford) Pear- Pyrus calleryana
  • Chinese Privet- Ligustrum sinense Lour.
  • English Ivy- Hedera spp.
  • Golden Bamboo- Phyllostachys aurea Carrière ex Rivière & C. Rivière
  • Japanese Honeysuckle- Lonicera japonica Thunb.
  • Japanese Knotweed- Fallopia japonica (Houtt.) Ronse Decr.
  • Japanese Stiltgrass- Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) Camus
  • Russian Olive- Elaeagnus angustifolia L.
  • Sacred Bamboo- Nandina domestica Thunb.
  • Tree-of-Heaven- Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle- This is the one Spotted Lantern Fly likes!

You Can Do Something About Invasive Plants!

Invasive plant species hide in our landscapes, but you can do something about it! You are in control of what plants you grow in your landscape or that occur on your property. Don’t tolerate invasive plants on your land.

  • Remove them from your property, as you are able (and replace!)-  The first thing you can do is just take out the known invasive plants you have in your garden and on your property. Dig up the plants, if you are able, or you can cut the plant close to the ground and treat the stump with an appropriate herbicide. If you need a plant identified or an herbicide suggestion, you can reach out to your local N.C. Cooperative Extension center. Replace the plant with a non-invasive plant species, exotic or native!
  •  Educate your neighbors- Now that you know invasive plants are hiding in plain sight in our landscapes, you can tell your friends and neighbors about them, and encourage them to remove and replace them! It can be a reason for a garden renovation or trying something new.
  •  Volunteer in your local park to remove invasive plants- Many local parks and natural areas managed by municipalities do not have the number of staff to manage invasive plant species on their own. They need citizen support to remove invasive plants. Organize a group of friends or organizations and ask if you can help your local park.
  • Observe your landscape plants- We are always learning about our favorite landscape plants and sometimes they show us an ugly side of themselves. If you notice that a plant in your landscape is starting to spread beyond where you planted it or you start to notice seedlings around, you should document the spread and upload it to EDDMaps. Reach out to your local N.C. Cooperative Extension center or NC State Extension Master Gardener℠ group to raise your concerns.
  • See Something, Say Something- The Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System website is a great way to upload your pictures of known invasive species or plants behaving in new ways. This data is used by invasive species scientists and conservationists to make management decisions and study invasive plant movement through time.


Iannone, B. V., Carnevale, S., Main, M. B., Hill, J. E., McConnell, J. B., Johnson, S. A., Enloe, S. F., Andreu, M., Bell, E. C., Cuda, J. P., & Baker, S. M. (2020). Invasive Species Terminology: Standardizing for Stakeholder Education. The Journal of Extension, 58(3), Article 27.

Crystal-Ornelas R., E.J. Hudgins, R.N. Cuthbert, et al. 2021. Economic costs of biological invasions within North America. NeoBiota 67:485-510.

Zenni R.D., F. Essl, E. García-Berthou, et al. 2021. The economic costs of biological invasions around the world. NeoBiota 67:1-9.

Executive Order 13112 – Invasive Species

North Carolina Invasive Species Council

UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (CAIP)

Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System

Invasive Plant Atlas

National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC)


Other Articles Amanda Has Written About Invasive Species in Lee County