Be A Smart Plant Buyer

The protection of our forests, public lands, and native species begins at home. Landscaping with the wrong plants can lead to the destruction of healthy native species. The plant decisions that you make at the store impact the existence of native species throughout Western North Carolina.

Make sure you are buying native plants for your next landscaping project. We have compiled a pocket guide with plants to avoid and plants that are great native alternatives for your garden. Use our guide as a reference when you are buying plants for your next landscaping project to make sure you are not negatively impacting native mountain ecosystems. Download the guide and take it with you the next time you go to the nursery!

Top 5 “Bad Actors”

Non-native invasive plants occur in all forms: Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Herbs, and Grasses. Listed below are some of examples of “worst” invasive species of each form found in WNC:

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

The Tree of Heaven is “allelopathic”, producing a soil chemical that reduces competition from native plants. Its spreading roots send up new saplings that take over increasing areas of the forest floor.

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) leaf

You can tell a sprouting or full grown Tree of Heaven by the two raised bumps on the back of its leaves.

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

As a shrub, the Multiflora Rose has sharp, downward-hooked thorns on stems that quickly grab onto skin and clothing and do not release easily. It forms dense, impenetrable thickets which take over extensive layers of the understory.

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) thorns and leaves

Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

As a vine, the Oriental Bittersweet strangles young trees and grows in both full sun and shade, making it a danger in any area. It produces a prodigious annual seed crop which is eaten and spread.

Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) fruit

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

As an herb, Garlic Mustard is “allelopathic”, producing a soil chemical that reduces competition from native plants. It prefers rich soil and will form extensive dense monoculture over the forest floor displacing desirable common and rare wildflower species found in these soils.

Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium viminium)

Japanese Stiltgrass, a kind of grass, is able to grow in both upland areas, such as full sunlit trails and roadsides, as well as low-lying and shaded moist habitats, posing a major threat to wetlands and bogs. The seeds spread quickly with precipitation runoff and flooding and can survive in the soil for up to 10 years.

Do Not Buy List

Mimosa Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin)
Native Alternatives: Common Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Native Alternatives: Mountain Pepperbush (Clethra acuminata), Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)
Native Alternatives: Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)
Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
Native Alternatives: Climbing Hydrangea (Decumaria barbara), Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Passion Vine (Passiflora incarnata)
Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia)
Native Alternatives: Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata), Goat’s-rue (Tephrosia virginiana)
Russian/Autumn Olive (Elaegnus spp.)
Native Alternatives: Chinquapin (Castanea pumila), Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum), Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
Native Alternatives: Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii), Mountain Witch Alder (Fothergilla major), Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Swamp-haw (Viburnum nudum)
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Native Alternatives: Marginal Woodfern (Dryopteris marginalis), Alum Root (Heuchera villosa), Creeping Mint (Meehania cordata)
Privet (Lingustrum spp.)

Note: There are no native WNC species of Privet.

Native Alternatives: American Holly (Ilex opaca), Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Non-Native Honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.)
Native Alternatives: Southern Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia), Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Chinese Silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Native Alternatives: Big Bluestern (Andropogon gerardii), Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
Native Alternatives: Eastern Rosebud (Cercis canadensis), Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), Umbrella Tree (Magnolia tripetela)
Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana)
Native Alternatives: Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum)
Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica/Fallopia japonica/Polygonum cuspidatum)
Native Alternatives: Mountain Winterberry (Ilex montana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)
Japanese Spiraea (Spirea japonica)
Native Alternatives: Sweet Shrub (Calycanphus floridus), Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Meadowsweet Spiraea (Spiraea alba)
Periwinkle (Vinca spp.)
Native Alternatives: Northern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), Southern Lady Fern (Athyrium asplenioides/Athyrium felix femina), Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
Non-Native Wisteria (Wisteria spp.)
Native Alternatives: Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)