10 Beautiful Invasive Plants You Do Not Want In Your Garden

These invasive plants are all beautiful so you will be tempted to plant them in your garden. Find out which invasive species are not worth the hassle.

10 Beautiful Invasive Plants You Do Not Want In Your Garden

Since I’m in planning mode for adding a Japanese-inspired garden to my yard, I have been looking for plants that I will want to include in the space.  (You can see some of my inspiration for that HERE).

And I was surprised to find that some types of Japanese maples (a requirement for a Japanese garden if you ask me) are on the Invasive Species list!

That got me thinking about all of the experiences I have had with invasive plants over the years.  I know that I do not want to intentionally plant another one!

For one thing, invasive species add so much more work to the gardening process.  If you read my post on low maintenance gardening, you know that even though I love my garden, I also don’t want to spend all of my free time working in it.

And the second problem is that most of these plants can easily escape your garden. When they set up shop in a natural habitat, they really cause a lot of damage to the native ecosystem.

So in the interest of sharing, keep reading to see my list of beautiful invasive plants you do not want in your garden.

Note: Whether or not these (or any other) plants will become invasive in your garden depends on the growing conditions in your area.

The plants on this list can all be found on invasive plants lists maintained by state and university extension programs. Which means they have the potential to become invasive.

But if you live in an area where the growing conditions are not favorable for the plants, they may not cause any problems…or may not grow at all 🙂

If you’re not sure how a plant will behave in your area, talk to your local nursery and other gardeners in your neighborhood to find out. Or check the Invasive Plant Atlas for North America, which provides maps of where different varieties of plants are considered to be invasive.

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

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Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife by GartenAkademie (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a very hardy perennial that spreads easily and can choke out a natural wetland (or field) very quickly.

The density of the shoots kills all other plants in its path, which is why it is on many invasive species lists across North America (and has even been banned in some places).

Cooper Marsh Purple Loosestrife

Cooper Marsh Purple Loosestrife By Saffron Blaze (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This picture of the Cooper Marsh Conservation Area in Ontario, Canada shows just how invasive it can be.

Garden varieties of Loosestrife are still for sale in some places, and are sometimes included in wildflower seed packets.

Since these can cross-polinate with wild varieties to create seeds, make sure to double-check what you are buying.

If you want more information, there is an in depth article on the Minnesota Sea Grant website.

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Japanese Honesuckle

Forest & Kim Starr [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I have never actually planted Japanese Honeysuckle, but I do have first hand experience with how invasive it is.

Some of it is growing wild in the ravine behind my house and it is impossible to keep under control. I actually think it is worse than the kudzu…and if you live in a location where kudzu grows, you know how invasive it is…

This Honeysuckle has white and yellow flowers that are really pretty, and it smells wonderful when it is blooming.  But it is definitely not worth the trade off of trying to keep it from strangling all other living plants!

Once it escapes into the wild (as it inevitably seems to do), it is devastating to the environment.

Note: There are non-invasive varieties of Honeysuckle which will be just fine in your garden. It’s the Japanese version that can cause problems.

Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora)

Autumn Clematis
Autumn Clematis

Autumn Clematis is not a plant that I ever would have guessed to be invasive. All of the other clematis varieties I have grown have always been very well behaved.

I planted this on my fence a couple of years ago, and actually it never did very much in my yard (I thought it had died). Then I was out pulling the kudzu and honeysuckle outside my fence, and saw this other vine that was growing everywhere. The blooms looked a lot like the autumn clematis I had planted, but I thought it couldn’t be the same plant.

Then I looked it up and found it on the Invasive Plant Atlas for South Carolina.

Of course, there are many non-invasive varieties of Clematis which absolutely deserve a spot in your garden, so don’t be afraid to plant those ones!

Wisteria (all varieties)


Wisteria By Dcrjsr (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I hate to add Wisteria to this list (it is really beautiful when it is blooming!)…but having lots of personal experience, I really can’t leave it off…

When I moved to South Carolina, a lot of people warned me that I shouldn’t plant Wisteria. I even had a co-worker tell me a story about over-turning a rented Bobcat trying to pull out Wisteria from the ravine at the back of his yard…but that still didn’t stop me from planting it.

Wisteria is an invasive plant species

I read that the Chinese (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese versions (Wisteria floribunda) of Wisteria were invasive (you can find them on the Plant Conservation Alliance’s Least Wanted Vines list), but the American variety (Wisteria frutescens) was not on the list.  So how bad could it be? (I have since found out that only non-native plant varieties are classified as “invasive”. So because this is a native variety, it isn’t on the list.)

Wisteria covering the fence

Now that I have it growing in my garden, I can vouch for the fact that once it gets going, even the native variety grows like crazy.

It starts out as a little plant, and it takes a little while to get going…but once it does, look out!  You have to be really vigilant about pruning to keep it where you want it. The picture above was taken in the spring after I had completely cut the wisteria down to the ground in the fall.  By the time it started blooming, it had completely covered the fence.

Then if you ever want to remove it, good luck 🙂 I tried to dig up a plant at the back of my yard 7 or 8 years ago, and I am still pulling rogue Wisteria plants out of the garden in that spot.  The lesson learned is…if you love the look of Wisteria as much as I do, you need to be prepared to do some work to keep it contained!

Painted Wisteria on Trellis Wall
Trellis Wall

Maybe I should just stick to the painted kind…like I did in my office a while back (you can see the instructions for that project here).

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lily of the Valley is a pretty woodland plant that blooms in the spring and has a wonderful perfume.

They are very easy to grow and will spread like wild fire…which is the first reason you don’t want them in your garden.

But the second (and maybe more important) reason is that these plants are extremely poisonous. Any pets or children (or even adults) that eat part of the plant will require medical treatment for poison.

Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

Vinca Minor

By Forest Wander from Cross Lanes, USA (Forget me not flowers) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Periwinkle is an easy to grow evergreen ground cover that does well in the shade and is covered with really pretty blue flowers in the spring.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

However, it also will overrun every other plant in your garden if you let it.

Trillium with Periwinkle
Trillium with Periwinkle

It starts out well mannered and seems like the perfect plant to add some interest underneath other plants in your garden.

But after if has become established (which takes a few years), it will start to grow up the stems of other plants and choke out any smaller plants in its way…except for the weeds which still seem to survive. You can see it in the background of this picture…it is beginning to get to the “takeover” stage.

This is another plant that I have spent many years trying to eradicate from my garden…without success so far…

Non-Clumping Bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea)

Bamboo in Maui
Bamboo in Maui

Ever since I saw this bamboo forest on Maui, I have loved the look (and sound) of bamboo.

It adds such a relaxing feel to the garden.

Many bamboo species are very invasive
Many bamboo species are very invasive

And then I saw the bamboo that had been planted along the railway tracks in South Carolina to act as a sound barrier…and has now taken over whole backyards.  It is incredibly difficult to remove or contain once it has become established.

Since bamboo is part of the grass family, it is literally like grass on steroids.  If you’ve ever tried to keep a running variety of grass (like Bermuda) out of your garden, you know how hard it is.  Then think of trying to do that if the grass were the size of a bamboo plant!

There are some clumping bamboo varieties that are not as invasive, so make sure you plant one of these if you want bamboo in your garden.

Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana)

Pampas Grass
Pampas Grass

Pampas Grass is another large perennial grass that looks beautiful and is very easy to grow.

It also grows very quickly into a large clump and will self seed freely.

And that’s where the problem starts. It can easily crowd out all other plants if you are not vigilant about keeping it in check.  Then if you try to dig it up, it has a massive root system that is very difficult to remove.

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English Ivy by MurielBendel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

English Ivy by MurielBendel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Like a lot of people, I used to love using English Ivy in my hanging baskets.  It always looks so nice trailing over the edge of the pot.

But if even one little piece of it touches the ground, you will have more ivy than you know what to do with.

That’s also what makes it so hard to get rid of…you have to remove every little bit of it from the ground or it will grow back.

Carpet Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Carpet Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

As the name suggests, Carpet Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is another ground cover that on the surface seems like a great addition to your garden.

Low growing, evergreen with purple-green leaves, and beautiful blue-purple flowers. And then it starts to spread and it’s impossible to pull out…the roots are in there, and like the ivy, any little piece left in the ground will grow.

Carpet Bugleweed without blooms

In fact, in my yard, it not only takes over the garden but will totally cover the sidewalk, too if I let it.

If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of invasive plants, try the Invasive Plant Atlas for North America. The site was developed by The University of Georgia – Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health and the National Park Service, and is maintained by several university, state and federal extension programs.

invasive.org is another organization that maintains a database of all kinds of invasive organisms (not just plants) for North America.

Both sites provide maps with each plant listing that let you know where the plant is considered to be invasive.

Do you have experience with any other types of invasive plants? Tell us in the section below.

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10 Beautiful Invasive Plants You Do Not Want In Your Garden

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253 Responses

  • Add Spiderwort to your list of invasive plants. My neighbor had some in his side yard when he moved in and I loved their pretty purple flowers until they started invading my garden. We both are still trying to get all their roots dug up 2 years later.

    • Add Purple Passion Flower to your list. It is an absolutely beautiful flower BUT BEWARE….it will take over your entire garden and yard for that matter. I planted it on a trellis thinking how nice it would look. I had no idea the vine would extend and go under the fence, attach to trees and have shoots come up in various places in my lawn. It eventually got under the fence and in the pine trees along the road. It grew like kudzu!!! The home owners association had to pay to have it burned out of the trees to stop it from continuing to grow! Luckily they never figured out which property it actually started from…take it from me, avoid it!!!!!

  • Tansy and Queen Anne’s Lace. Both grow quite high and fill in bare spots within a year. However, both can get leggy and fall over with heavy rains and every fall you will need to cut them down. I will include wild day lilies too, although they don’t need to be cut down, but they will spread in no time! I actually didn’t mind the day lilies which I planted on a bermed bank around our back yard…. they fill in really tight, choking out all weeds and there was no need to mow the bank- that was our objective. They only bloom for a short while but their greenery is pleasant and will keep the weeds down all summer.

  • Some of the plants on this list are genuinely invasive and awful (Wisteria, purple loosestrife) in that they either quickly displace natives and spread to the wild or they are very hard to eradicate once established (Wisteria, creeping charlie). But as others have noted, many of the rest are just spreaders. They will naturally spread but can easily be controlled or moved if you decide you don’t want them there. It just requires a little work, just like most gardening. They don’t warrant the label of invasive or “don’t ever plant this!” If you aren’t willing to pull a few runners or dig a little, can you really call yourself a gardener? The best way to learn the difference is to talk to other people in your neighborhood or area and look to see what others are planting. Aside from creeping charlie, my most aggressive spreaders are ostrich ferns, but I love them. I just edit them, try them in different spots, and give lots away. Daylilies and hostas are the same, but aren’t on this list.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Julia. All of the plants on my initial list are on invasive plants lists maintained by state and university extension programs (the links are provided in the article). Which means given the right conditions, they are invasive. However, in some parts of the country, they may just be “spreaders” depending on the growing conditions in that area. I agree with you that it’s always a good idea to check with local nurseries and other gardeners in your neighborhood before planting them to see which ones are problematic in your area.

  • I think Julia is a little sanguine. I inherited a garden (in Zone 4/5) with Periwinkle and Bamboo spreading everywhere. Believe me it required more than a little gardening to try to eradicate them. It required days of on your knees backbreaking work. It is a small garden that literally looked like a jungle because of the Bamboo. The periwinkle has trailing underground roots that go everywhere. It was no fun trying to pull them out from under a prickly hedge. More than 5 years later, and from under cedar mulch, they both pop up every year somewhere.
    This is separate from the small patch of rigourously pruned Periwinkle which I kept in an exposed spot. Still, I would never recommend planting either.
    I woud add Manitoba Maple to the list. Maples add a lot of shade in the summer, however, they drop tons of keys (seeds) and every other one wants to become a tree. They will uproot your foundation, fences, garage, anything. Even at a very small size they are shockingly difficult to remove with all the strength of a tree. I even remove the neighbours maples adjacent to my fence and garage as they do not garden. After they let one grow adjacent to their foundation, I felt I had no choice.
    Thanks for the list.

    • Thanks, Denise! I am still fighting the Periwinkle battle (under a prickly hedge, too)…so I know what you’re going through 🙂 Good point with the Manitoba Maple. I had one in my backyard when I lived in Toronto and those little trees were popping up everywhere!

  • Chameleon plant,i saw it on side of road n thought,whats this cute lil thing,i dug it up n brought it home n was so excited when i saw the cute lil white tic tac lookin bud n it changes colors in sun n shade…..bigggg mistake,it has roots that grow sooo long n took over a huge area in bout 2 yrs…great cut flower,but once u plant it,ya cant get rid of it,after two yrs of removin it n sprayin killer n layin tarps n gravel,it showed its face again this yr…do not buyyyyy….or drag home.omggg..if i can help one person,its worth it.

  • I am battle Japanese boxwood. It has sent out runners and they are popping up small plants in my yard. The company that planted them never told me that they spread or that they get so big. I have dug up the 5 orginal plants and I’ve started on the runners. The roots are so big and hard to pull. I have a feeling that it is going to take years to get them all out. By the way I live in florida.

  • Gout weed is the bane of my existence! We purchased a property in the South Okanagan in BC, and there was a whole slope along our driveway planted in gout weed. Initially I thought that it was nice growing up around all the spring bulbs until it continued to grow and spread and strangle out everything else. For a couple years I battled it by digging out as much as I could and then putting down landscape fabric and layers of mulch, but it would always work it’s way out. Even after widening the driveway, having machinery rework the slope, and more diligent use of landscape fabric and mulch, I still find it popping up on our property! AND, I hate that I always see it for sale in Nurseries & Plant centers as a ground cover under the name: Snow in the mountain.

    • Thanks, Jane! There have been a few people complaining about Gout weed. I’ve never planted it, and definitely won’t be now 🙂

    • I was wondering why I didn’t see Goutweed in the top ten…actually it could be # 1. I unwittingly planted one plant a few years ago and was so sorry a few years after. I had a beautiful Hosta garden beside it with a nice stone walkway between. It continually popped up in the middle of the walkway. I had even put fabric under the stone path. Didn’t matter…..still spread. We moved since then and I saw it this year and it totally grew over into the Hostas. The people unfortunately were not gardeners.

      • Thanks, Jean! I have heard that Goutweed is hard to control, so it definitely deserves a spot in the list 🙂

  • Bishop’s weed, gout weed, snow on the mountain or ground elder-all the same plant. It’s a wonderful ground cover, but definitely does take over and doesn’t stay put! I was happy to plant it to keep cats out of our flowerbeds. Let just say it’s working well for my intended purpose! It’s very hardy and requires very little attention – only when pulling it out of where it doesn’t belong!

  • Trumpet vines! The runners are extremely high maintenance. So sorry that I added this plant to my garden. Keep in mind they require a tall trellis, or two, in order to ‘train’ the vine.

    • I inherited a trumpet vine.It was here when we moved in.Ive been trying to eradicate it for 4 years. My huband put chemicals on it to kill it but we can’t seem to get all the under ground runners. It grows up into my neighbor’s yars 20 feet away. It takes over mr shade garden by middle of summer!! Grrrr!

  • Donkey spurge puts little seedlings everywhere. I had some spread throughout the lawn and was diligent in plucking it out.
    Chocolate vine was removed from my yard/pergola, jumped the neighbour’s fence and is now taking over their honey locust.
    Wisteria was removed years ago well below ground and has now sprouted in my new raised garden bed 6 feet away! Ugh!!
    I planted a Twisty Baby robinia (tree) that got infested and we cut it down. The root stock suckered up all over our back yard (25’x32′ area). We sprayed Roundup on the stump, drilled it and poured salt down. It seems like it did the trick a few years later.
    Gray’s dogwood was cut down and the root stock suckered up for a few years. Getting control over that it seems.
    I can’t believe they sell goutweed in the nurseries. What are they thinking??

  • Primrose! It decides where it wants to be. It has migrated and moved to various spots in our landscaping over the years! It’s even trying to slip over the landscape edging and merging into our grass! It is a major pain to deal with. I regret the day I actually BOUGHT this plant and planted it at our house!

  • Hi, this is interesting. These are all ( except for bamboo, ivy, Pampas Grass and wisteria, which are not hardy enough) very popular plants in Finland. Lily of the Valley is actually national flower of Finland. We have a bit colder climate, something like Minnesota I think. Our list of Invasive Alien Species includes: Lupinus polyphyllus, Lupinus nootkatensis, Lysichiton americanus, Rosa rugosa, Reynoutria japonica.

  • My next door neighbor has 8/10 of these plants in her garden! OMG! She even went across the state line to purchase purple lythrum!

    • Wow! She must spend a lot of time keeping plants under control 🙂 Lythrum is particularly bad because it’s very good at escaping the garden and causing issues elsewhere.

  • I love Creeping Jenny but it has taken over…I planted a little 6 pk of it years ago and have been pulling whole recycling barrels out almost every summer. The upside is that it chokes out my neighbors invading dandylions. 😉

    • Thanks, Maria! I also have problems with Creeping Jenny taking over. I don’t even like to plant it in containers any more just in case it escapes 🙂

  • Sumac…the variety known as “Tree of Heaven” is a shrub that can become a small tree…make that hundreds of small trees! Sends up suckers everywhere, many times far from mother plant. Google it….resistant to roundup and crossbow unless used properly over a FEW YEARS! My sister hates groundcover known as Snow On the Mountain…pretty green/white varigated leaves that will easily take over a garden. Also, never plant “Monkey Clover”…you will regret it, lol! Those are the ones on my ‘hate list’.

  • Knotweed! Twenty-foot tall canes that grow as much as an inch a day, and spread faster than bamboo or kudzu!

  • One issue with bamboo, which is definitely invasive is little known. If it catches fire, and it catches easily, the fire spreads like gng busters. It’s difficult to put out, also. In addition, burning embers from it are very light and can catch a breeze easily, making it a fire danger a long way from the fire itself. I used to live in the Central Valley of California and even official efforts at eradicating bamboo are generally unsuccessful.

    • Thanks, Trudy! I didn’t think of the fire aspect, but that’s true…it does burn very easily. Another reason not to plant it (especially if you live in an area where wild fires can be an issue).

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