8 Invasive Plants You Should Rip to Shreds

8 Invasive Plants You Should Rip to Shreds
Chop up those pesky, invasive plants... for the planet. (Photo: Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels)

Conservation is about saving, about preserving the natural world for future generations and the health of our ecosystems. But sometimes to save local environments, you have to kill some plants. Specifically, invasive plants.

Don’t get me wrong, plants are great. We need them for so many things, including carbon capture. But invasive species, like for example these bugs, are horrible for their adopted environments, which may not have have natural predators that can keep their numbers in check. Invasive plants can be just as insidious. They choke out other plants that are just trying to strive in their rightful place, and that hurts native animals and insects that rely on the native plant to be their habitat or food source.

So how do you know if a plant needs destroying? This guide identifies some of the most common — and most dangerous — invasive species and can give you a place to start. Just remember that before you actually rip anything out of the ground, be sure you’ve identified the plant properly. One way to do that is to contact your local parks department (especially if the plant’s in a public park) or your local or state conservation department. Some of those agency’s websites have close up photos of invasive species, like non-native plants, that are also worth checking out.

Hydrilla

Hydrilla, a non-native invasive species and a hazard for young birds mistaking it as land.  (Photo: Gerald Herbert, AP)Hydrilla, a non-native invasive species and a hazard for young birds mistaking it as land. (Photo: Gerald Herbert, AP)

This vine-like plant may seem harmless with its little pointed leaves, but it clogs up aquatic environments by growing up to an inch a day. It is considered one of the worst aquatic weeds in the entire country for crowding out other plants and growing in water reservoirs.

If left unchecked, hydrilla can kill local plants and also hurt recreational activities like canoeing and fishing. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, anyone who goes out to a body of water should be sure to clean their boat and equipment before and after using to avoid spreading seeds or plant parts: Any plant parts removed from a boat while cleaning should be tossed into the trash and not back into the water. The department also asks residents to email or call the department if they see an abundance of the plant in hopes of monitoring where it has spread.

Beefsteak plant

Perilla is often used in cuisines in several Asian countries. It is also a salad green.  (Photo: ibuki Tsubo/Unsplash)Perilla is often used in cuisines in several Asian countries. It is also a salad green. (Photo: ibuki Tsubo/Unsplash)

Despite the delightful name of this plant, it must be uprooted in an attempt to save our ecosystems. The beefsteak plant has green and purple leaves, which are really nice… but they also can poison cattle, and like all other invasives, takes over entire environments. It is found throughout the entire country because its seeds are spread far and wide in the wind.

You can easily rip this plant out of the ground and dispose of it, like with other invasive plants, but it doesn’t have to end up in the trash: Beefsteak plants are edible and totally safe to eat (unless you’re a cow). It’s actually sold in some supermarkets under other names like wild basil or perilla.

So foragers who want to make sure native plants are safe and get leafy greens for free should keep their eyes open: These plants tend to grow near roadsides in both rich or dry soil, so they shouldn’t be hard to find.

Cherokee Rose

A Cherokee Rose blossom.  (Photo: Dominika Roseclay/Pexels)A Cherokee Rose blossom. (Photo: Dominika Roseclay/Pexels)

This delicate white flower may be beautiful, but sadly, it is also an invasive plant that should be destroyed. Cherokee roses tend to “climb” over other vegetation, choking them out from air and light. This thorny plant also grows aggressively, which makes it harder for other native plants to survive. It’s originally from parts of East and Southeast Asia.

Despite being invasive to the area, it is the official flower of Georgia. Gardeners who want to get rid of the plant are often told to spray herbicides (consider that this could hurt the local environment as well), or they can pull the plant out of the ground without the use of chemicals.

English Ivy

A dense wall of English ivy leaves.  (Photo: Clive Brunskill, Getty Images)A dense wall of English ivy leaves. (Photo: Clive Brunskill, Getty Images)

When it covers the side of a home, this vine may look like something out of a charming old college town. But much like its country of origin, this plant has colonised other nations and is responsible for much destruction in the United States.

English ivy literally suffocates trees, making it hard for necessary sunlight to get through. It also carries “Bacterial Leaf Scorch” which is a plant pathogen that hurts native plants along with oak trees and elm trees. It’s currently growing in more than half of the states in the country and is often even sold in Home Depot. The plant is touted as being low maintenance, but it takes over most of the environments it thrives in, so maybe consider planting native perennials instead.

Many sources suggest spraying herbicides to get rid of the vine, but there is a greener alternative — dousing the plant with white vinegar. Other removal methods include mowing ground level ivy vines and ripping the roots out of the soil.

Garlic mustard

The Alliaria petiolata, or garlic mustard, flowering in a garden in the Czech Republic.  (Photo: CTK, AP)The Alliaria petiolata, or garlic mustard, flowering in a garden in the Czech Republic. (Photo: CTK, AP)

This delicately flowered plant is another edible invasive. It’s a pretty cute plant with small buds and pointed leaves, but sadly, it must die along with other plants that have rooted themselves in areas with no natural predators.

Garlic mustard originally comes from Europe and is found in many countries, but it should not be welcome here. It grows like crazy, and by the time of year native plants are ready to grow in their intended environments, the garlic mustard has already gotten so big that it blocks out the sun. It also draws away soil moisture and nutrients.

The best way to rid an ecosystem of garlic mustard is to rip it out at the roots. It’s best to try to identify it before it flowers and spreads seeds into the surrounding ecosystem. Rip this horseradish tasting plant out of the ground and throw it into some pesto.

Kudzu

A hillside taken over by kudzu in North Charleston, West Virginia.  (Photo: Charleston Daily Mail, Bob Wojcieszak, AP)A hillside taken over by kudzu in North Charleston, West Virginia. (Photo: Charleston Daily Mail, Bob Wojcieszak, AP)

Like the English Ivy, this plant takes over its environment. Kudzu swallows entire trees and even buildings. It’s native to Asian countries like India and Japan, but is swallowing the American South. It’s found primarily across the East Coast and up into New England, and is now officially in 30 states.

Kudzu has been a useful fodder crop for livestock, and is even ornamental… but it literally chokes out native plants. Because it creeps over everything, it stops sunlight from reaching native plants and trees for so long they eventually die.

There are several recommended methods to get rid of this plant, including using herbicides, having goats chew away at it, and just ripping it out of the dirt.

Tree of Heaven

The Tree of Gods counts as an invasive species in Germany and in the U.S. as well.  (Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture-alliance/dpa, AP)The Tree of Gods counts as an invasive species in Germany and in the U.S. as well. (Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture-alliance/dpa, AP)

Don’t mind this plant’s name, because for nearby native plants it’s actually from Hell. Like many other invasive species, it has pretty leaves that look decorative, but it needs to be killed.

Native to China and Taiwan, this tree is now found in 30 states across the continental U.S., and is also in Hawaii. It can grow to 70 feet tall, and a single tree can produce more than 300,000 seeds a year. The Tree of Heaven also thrives in horrible soil and air conditions, so it’s quick to take over all kinds of environments and push out native plants.

Chopping the tree down does help stop its spread, but the most effective way to stop it from taking over is to identify it when the tree is still small. This tree looks like several native species, so be mindful to check that you’re not destroying a non-invasive plant. The Tree of Heaven has a strong, somewhat foul odor, so use your nose to identify it.

Pampas Grass

8 Invasive Plants You Should Rip to Shreds

This puffy plant is all over social media feeds. It’s a driving force in home decor blog posts and the boho wedding aesthetic, and it’s even sold in dried bundles on Etsy. But despite its many creative uses, it is an invasive grass that is wrecking havoc on other plants.

Originally from countries in South American including Argentina and Brazil, pampas grass can survive drought, frost, and intense sunlight. If too many floofy pampas stems show up in an environment, they lower the amount of biodiversity there, according to a California wildlife guide. And one stem can carry millions of seeds that spread in the breeze.

Online guides suggest using herbicides on this plant, but to avoid spreading chemicals into the ground and towards other plants, just rip it out of the ground. You can also burn pampas to kill it or dig up the plants’ root system to ensure that it won’t grow back.