Look Out For These Invasive Plants in Missouri

Keep an eye out for Japanese grass, Callery pears, and privets on your Missouri property. They’re some of the state's most invasive plant species.
Written by Patrick Price
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Missouri’s vibrant and vital ecosystem is under attack from a staggering variety of invasive plant species—from the ravenous and resilient Johnson grass that is choking the state's vital wetlands to the Autumn olive that takes over whole forests. 
Missouri plays an important, and often overlooked, role in the ecological well-being of the continental US due to its location at the confluence of North America’s two most important rivers: the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. 
As invasive plant species become overgrown, they constrict the water drainage and the flow of minerals and soil deposits that the river has traditionally distributed along its banks.
With so much at stake, it’s no surprise that the
Missouri Invasive Plant Council
(MIPC) was created to stem the tide of destructive plant growth. 
Doing your part to help protect Missouri begins by educating yourself about which invasive species are the most cause for concern. That’s why
Jerry
—the
trustworthy broker app
for finding savings on your
Missouri car insurance cost
—has created this field guide to the most invasive plants in Missouri. 
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The top 10 invasive plant species in Missouri

1. Sericea lespedeza 

Scientific name: Lespedeza cuneata
What it looks like: Semi-woody forb with thin and alternating three-parted leaves. The plant usually grows to about four feet high.  
Why it’s a problem: While Sericea lespedeza was introduced to the Americas intentionally for erosion control, it has long since proved itself to be more trouble than it’s worth. 
Not only does it have the aggressive growth pattern needed to completely dominate an area, but it also produces seeds that can survive rough conditions and lay dormant for years. 
What to do: Sericea lespedeza is one of the more difficult plants to kill. Any one method of control (cutting, applying herbicides, planning controlled burns) likely won’t be enough to eradicate the plant—you’ll need to do all three in careful balance. 

2. Callery pear

Scientific name: Pyrus calleryans
What it looks like: A large broad-leafed tree that can grow up to 60 feet tall. In the spring, it produces wide white flowers that give off an unpleasant odor. It also bears bunches of small round fruit that will be either green or brown.
Why it’s a problem: Commonly known as the Bradford tree, these plants were not originally native to the continent nor particularly virulent. The trees were initially brought to the U.S to be planted and used ornamentally. 
To strengthen them against harsh weather, some owners cross-pollinated early Bradford trees with similar species, resulting in an altered form of the tree that was far more resilient—and far more aggressive in its pollination. Now, the Bradford tree is growing and spreading out of control. 
What to do: According to the
Missouri Department of Conservation
(MDC), you should cut down large trees, pull up younger ones, and plant native alternative species in their place. 

3. Garlic mustard

Scientific name: Lygodium microphyllum
What it looks like: Thin green stalks featuring wide ridged leaves with small white flowers on top. Garlic mustard also produces a strong odor similar to that of garlic. 
Why it’s a problem: Garlic mustard grows rapidly, spreads rapidly, needs very little light to thrive, and produces organic compounds that are toxic to most native plants—meaning garlic mustard plants have a tendency to spread into thriving woodlands and slowly kill off other plant species. 
What to do: Garlic mustard is aggressive and relatively resilient. Still, a standard routine of cutting mature plants a few inches above the base, pulling younger plants, applying herbicides, and conducting regular burns is usually enough to halt their spread. 

4. Autumn olive

Scientific name: Elaeagnus umbellata
What it looks like: A shrub that can grow to heights anywhere from two feet to twenty feet tall. You can recognize Autumn olive by its characteristic silver-dotted leaves. 
Why it’s a problem: Autumn olive grows rapidly and aggressively. It will invade thriving woodlands, form dense clusters, and slowly drive out most of the native plant species.  
What to do: If you notice Autumn olive growing, you should cut the plant down and then treat the area with herbicide to prevent it from growing back. 

5. Oriental bittersweet

Scientific name: Celastrus orbiculatus
What it looks like: Evergreen tree with smooth, glossy leaves and round berries.
Why it’s a problem: First imported from its native China, the oriental bittersweet is a woody vine. It’s much denser and stronger than a standard vine, and there have been several instances where the plant has done serious structural damage to buildings that it was growing on. 
What to do: If you notice an outbreak of oriental bittersweet, you can try prying it off the tree, car, house, or whatever else the vine may have gripped to in order to grow. Often, this isn’t very feasible. 

6. Himalayan blackberry

Scientific name: Rubus armeniacus
What it looks like: The Himalayan blackberry is a tall shrub that might either be standing roughly 14-18 feet tall or arched over and growing along the ground for 30 feet or more—it just depends on how old a particular specimen is. 
Why it’s a problem: Once a Himalayan blackberry bush matures and arches over, its branches will grow into the ground—essentially becoming the basis for the root system of a new (but interconnected) shrub. 
The result is an ever-expanding tangled web of shrubbery that overtakes and strangles any other plant life in the area. 
What to do: It can be difficult to effectively uproot or even cut down a Himalayan blackberry plant, since it's tricky to figure out which root is the original base of the plant. 
Even if you do figure it out, a mature plant will have sunken its branches deep into the soil—creating an extensive and resilient network. The best tool to use is a herbicide. 

7. Japanese stiltgrass

Scientific name: Microstegium vimineum
What it looks like: A pale-green grass species with long and thin leaves that tend to droop over. 
Why it’s a problem: Accidentally imported from Asia in the early part of the 20th century, Japanese stilt grass is far more tolerant of low-light areas than native grass species—which means it easily invades wooded areas and muscles out the local grasses. 
What to do: Keep an eye out for Japanese stilt grass. If you notice any, pull it up by hand. Then, mow the area very thoroughly—you must do this by early August at the latest (otherwise mowing will just spread the seeds). 
Next, treat the area with an eco-friendly herbicide. Lastly, distribute grass seed for a native species in the area. 

8. Privets

Scientific name: Ligustrum spp.
What it looks like: A medium-sized shrub with dark-green oblong leaves and round dark-blue fruit that grows in bunches. Privets can grow as tall as 16 feet. 
Why it’s a problem: Invasive privets (also called Chinese privets) were first imported from Asia in the 1850s under controlled conditions to be used for private greenhouses and gardens. Several decades later, the species escaped from controlled growing conditions and began spreading rapidly. 
The Privet is extremely tolerant of harsh conditions, low light, and shallow soil—which makes it ideally suited to invade new areas and displace native species. And since its leaves and fruit are toxic to most animals, it drastically affects the food supply for local wildlife. 
What to do: Cut mature privets at the stump wherever you find them. For younger specimens, you should be able to just pull them out of the ground. Mow the area frequently to ensure that they do not return.  

9. Climbing euonymus 

Scientific name: Euonymus fortunei
What it looks like: An evergreen vine with shiny dark-green leaves and small five-petal leaves. The vine also produces small round fruits with a pinkish color to them. 
Why it’s a problem: Climbing euonymus (also called “winter creeper”) is a rapidly growing vine that encroaches on territories during the winter, while most plants are dormant.
What to do: Pull/cut up infestations and then treat the affected area with herbicides. 

10. Japanese honeysuckle

Scientific name: Lonicera japonica
What it looks like: A rapidly-growing green vine with rounded leaves, delicate yellow and white flowers that release a pleasant aroma, and small dark-purple fruits. 
Why it’s a problem: The Japanese honeysuckle completely takes over the understory of areas where it spreads. This has a dramatic and rippling effect on the local animal life. 
What to do: The two most effective methods for dealing with a Japanese honeysuckle infestation are herbicides and regular burns. 

The five most invasive plants in Missouri’s “Big Rivers” region

The Missouri River, affectionately nicknamed the “Big Muddy”, is the fourth largest river in the world, the chief contributing tributary to the mighty Mississippi River, and one of the most ecologically important bodies of water in the western hemisphere. 
On its own, the Missouri River is responsible for the vital groundwater drainage of over one-sixth of the entire United States. 
According to the Missouri Invasive Plant Council, the species listed below are the five most virulent and problematic invasive plants in the crucial Big Rivers region—the northwestern section of the state where the Missouri River meets the Mississippi River.  

1. Reed canary grass

Scientific name: Phalaris arundinacea
What it looks like: Reed canary grass is a perennial grass with large flat leaf blades. At an average growth height of six feet, Reed Canary typically grows as tall as a person’s head! 
The plant consists of a thin green stalk that terminates in a green, brown, or purple flowering head. You’ll most often find Reed canary grass growing in wetland soils (such as marshes, wet prairies, fens, along riverbanks, etc). 
Why it’s a problem: Reed canary grass was intentionally imported from Asia and eastern Europe in the 1800s to be used as hay for livestock. Unfortunately, the plant provides very little nutritional value for any large vertebrates. 
In fact, it grows so thick that it prevents both animals and other plants from thriving near it. On top of that, it constricts waterways and increases silt deposits. 
What to do: The MDC recommends pulling the plants up by hand, treating them with herbicides, and arranging regular controlled burns to eradicate Reed canary grass. 

2. Japanese hops

Scientific name: Humulus japonicus
What it looks like: A kelly-green climbing vine with five-lobed leaves and prickles. 
Why it’s a problem: Like many invasive species, the main problem with the Japanese hops plant is that it grows too rapidly and aggressively for native species to compete. 
On top of that, it has a tendency to grow into extremely dense blankets (sometimes 4-5 feet thick) that pull down other plants, block sunlight, and damage man-made structures. 
What to do: The MDC recommends pulling Japanese hops up by hand if the infestation is still small. If it’s grown too dense, you may need to use a herbicide and/or lawnmower. 

3. Bush honeysuckles

Scientific name: Lonicera spp.
What it looks like: Upright shrub that stands 15-20 feet high in some cases. It is defined by its pointed green leaves, bright red berries, and white and yellow flowers. 
Why it’s a problem: The Bush honeysuckle plant is exceptionally greedy when it comes to sunlight—its dense understory and extensive root system allow the honeysuckle to rapidly dominate areas surrounding bodies of water. 
It will quickly strangle any native plants, causing catastrophic repercussions in the surrounding areas. 
What to do: Practice routine controlled burns twice a year in affected areas. In between burns, regularly cut specimens down and apply herbicides to the area. 

4. Common reed

Scientific name: Phragmites australis
What it looks like: Thick stalks that can rise as high as 15 feet tall with wide pointed leaves. 
Why it’s a problem: This species of reed, native to Africa, grows in dense patches near shallow water. They grow so dense that they block out the sunlight and displace both local flora and fauna. 
What to do: The MDC recommends using a combination of herbicide treatments and stem cutting.

5. Johnson grass

Scientific name: Sorghum halepense
What it looks like: A perennial grass that grows up to eight feet tall with purple flowers and white midribs. 
Why it’s a problem: Johnson grass is both aggressive and versatile—it can live just about anywhere, and it grows in thick destructive clumps. 
What to do: Johnson Grass is extremely resilient. Eradicating it requires a well-planned regiment of heavy herbicide use, plant cutting, and soil disruption. 

How to save on home insurance in Missouri

As the invasive species epidemic in Missouri continues to worsen, the effects on the ecosystem and human infrastructure continue to escalate. With the mounting damage to the crucial Big Rivers region and its associated wetlands, the local agricultural industry is also in peril. 
On top of that, homeowners all over Missouri are at an ever-increasing risk of flooding. 
If you own a home in Missouri, it’s important that you protect your house with
flood insurance
—which isn’t included with a standard homeowners insurance policy.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to quickly compare prices for the very best deals on home insurance coverage in the Show-Me State! All you need to do is download
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