Beware of Chinese privet

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When a plant species is found beyond its natural range, it is termed exotic. When exotic plants become problematic and displace native vegetation, they are termed exotic invasive. Invasive species can threaten forest stability and biodiversity. Invasives can be either native or nonnative. Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), also called "common privet," is an exotic invasive plant. It was introduced from China in 1852 and has gradually spread throughout much of the southeastern United States. It has been successful at displacing some native trees and plants, and has brought difficulty in regenerating forests. 

Chinese privet is a semi-evergreen shrub (retaining most of its leaves in the dormant season) reaching 30 feet tall. The growth habitat produces multiple basal stems that arch in all directions, forming dense thickets, particularly in bottomland forests and along fencerows. When mature, the dark purple fruits are consumed - then spread - by birds. Privet is tolerant to shade, existing quite well under the forest canopy. It also sprouts prolifically. 

Chinese privet, in contrast to two other common privets (glossy privet and Japanese privet), has small leaves that average 1.0 inches long. The leaf is arranged oppositely, is elliptical in shape, is lustrous green above with a hairy midvein below, and is entire (without lobes along edges). 

Because privet retains most of its foliage during the dormant season, it is capable of producing and storing sugars from photosynthesis even in the winter months when most other plants have become inactive. This gives privet a competitive advantage against other native vegetation. 

Privet is controllable by either mechanical or chemical measures, depending on the level of infestation and a landowner's time and resources. Forms of treatment can include: prescribed burning, tractors with rootrakes and shredder-mulcher heads, pulling and digging, and herbicides. Herbicides are effective in one-of-four ways: cut-stump treatment, tree injection via hack-and-squirt, basal stem spraying, and foliar spraying. A number of herbicides are registered as safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency for treatment of privet. Be sure to follow the label recommendations when using herbicides. 

Cost-share assistance is sometimes available to address invasive species control, such as privet. Contact your local Natural Resource Conservation Service or TDA Division of Forestry for more information. Finally, privet control is never complete. Be sure to continually treat new, unwanted arrivals. 

Reference: Miller, James. 2004. Privet Is a Plague: How Can You Help Stop It. USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station. 

Bruce Steelman

614 Lehman Street

Phone:  615-563-2554


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