The Most Invasive Plant Species in Pennsylvania

If you're not careful, poisonous invasive plants like poison hemlock and giant hogweed can take over your land.
Written by Jasmine Kanter
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Keep invasive vines, weeds, trees, and aquatic plants away from your property if you want the healthiest air, water, and wildlife.
Invasive plants are a problem for everyone. They're usually inhospitable and inedible to local wildlife, reducing biodiversity. They crowd out native plants, which leads to poor water quality and soil erosion.
Invasive plants are also very difficult to get rid of. So for the sake of your neighbors, your property value, and your own health, get rid of them immediately! 
In the interests of local landscapes everywhere,
, a licensed
home insurance
broker, has created a guide to Pennsylvania's most invasive plants. Find out which vines, weeds, trees, and aquatic species you don’t want on your land and how you can make
home insurance in Pennsylvania
a little cheaper.

Pennsylvania’s most wanted invasive plants

It might seem fussy to worry about what’s growing in your yard, but the
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR)
considers invasive plants a major issue. The worst species pose a serious threat to human health and quality of life. They ruin recreational areas, cost thousands to remove, strangle shade-giving trees, and can even harbor pathogens, allergens, and skin irritants.
Some invasive plants were originally planted for their looks; others hitched a ride on clothing and cargo from foreign countries. However they got here, they weren't accompanied by theirnatural predators, so they grow out of control. That's why Pennsylvanians need to destroy invasive species wherever they’re found and plant native varieties in their place.
Here’s a list of all the plants on which you can unleash yourinner Rambo:

Pennsylvania’s most invasive vines

What is it? A long woody vine with alternating heart-shaped and three- to five-lobed leaves. Summer brings small flowers that change from light purple to green to blue with fall. Easy to mistake for native grapes.
Why is it a problem? Originally imported as ornamentals, these vines form dense mats that block light from reaching young trees, seedlings, and other plants.
How do I get rid of it? Hand-pull or cut vines near the ground in the fall or spring, then apply herbicide. To prevent sprouts from re-emerging, long-term monitoring is necessary.

What is it? An enormous, woody vine with oval-shaped leaves and fragrant white to yellow flowers. In the fall, shiny black fruits appear. 
Why is it a problem? This ornamental vine girdles small saplings—that is, it wraps them so tightly they can’t pass nutrients to their upper half and they die.
How do I get rid of it? To remove a mat, you must repeatedly pull the vine and roots by hand. Mowing will cause the vine mats to spring back more vigorously than before.

What is it? A climbing vine with long, hairy leaves with three lobes. Purple, fragrant flowers appear in midsummer, followed by hairy flat seed pods in autumn.
Why is it a problem?
"The vine that ate the South"
might not be as widespread as popularly feared, but it remains a problem. Kudzu forms blankets on hillsides, meadows, and roadsides, eliminating beneficial native plants.
How do I get rid of it? Kudzu can take years to destroy, even in small patches, thanks to its extensive root system. Cutting, mowing, or allowing goats or cows to graze on the vines will weaken the vine's ability to sustain itself. Apply herbicide to the leaves if you plan to use it. Report all sightings to the Department of Agriculture.

Pennsylvania’s most invasive weeds

What is it? Ground-cover herb with triangle-shaped or heart-shaped leaves that smell like garlic when crushed. Visually similar to toothworts, sweet cicely, and early saxifrage.
Why is it a problem? Since its introduction to Long Island, New York, in 1868, garlic mustard has spread to 38 states. With its shade-loving characteristics, it floods forests and meadows and inhibits the growth of trees and wildflowers.
How do I get rid of it? It takes years to eradicate garlic mustard. When the plant is in flower, you can hand-pull smaller groups or cut larger ones. Providing they don’t affect other species, herbicides may be applied at any time of the year. 

What is it? A towering dark green herb with purple splotches and coarse bristles on its stems. An umbrella-shaped cluster of white flowers can produce over 100,000 seeds each year.
Why is it a problem? Hogweed is as gluttonous as its name implies, devouring light, space, and soil wherever it grows. Its poisonous sap can cause severe burns and blisters on the skin, as well as permanent blindness.
How do I get rid of it? Wear protective gear (clothing and eyewear) or contact a weed specialist. During the growing season, dig up the whole plant or cut it back often. Apply herbicides in summer or allow cows and pigs to graze on the plant.

What is it? A tall herb with purple-spotted stems and deeply notched leaves that emit a bad, parsnip-like odor when crushed. Clusters of its small white flowers are shaped like umbrellas.
Why is it a problem? Poison hemlock is considered a “pioneer species”. As it spreads aggressively throughout an ecosystem, it opens the door for other non-native plants to follow. Moreover, it’s extremely poisonous to humans and livestock.
How do I get rid of it? Handle with care or report any sightings to the Department of Agriculture. In early spring, apply herbicide and destroy any seed heads found so the plant cannot regenerate.

Pennsylvania’s most invasive trees

What is it? Early summer brings large clusters of yellow flowers to this rapid grower. When crushed, the narrow leaves smell rancid (like cat urine or burnt peanut butter). Easily mistaken for native sumacs.
Why is it a problem? Due to its adaptability and the ability to release inhibitory chemicals, the "Chinese sumac" (or "stinking sumac" or "tree of hell") has spread far and wide since its introduction. Its roots can damage sewer lines and foundations.
How do I get rid of it? Like a hydra, cutting off one head will result in numerous other clones taking its place. Instead, apply herbicide between July and October.

What is it? A short tree with finely toothed leaves with clusters of blackberries in late summer.
Why is it a problem? Growing in dense thickets, enough buckthorns can change the soil's nitrogen level, effectively replacing any pre-existing ecosystem with their own.
How do I get rid of it? Seedlings should be pulled in mid-October, taking special care to remove the entire root system. Alternatively, you can cut the bushes back at the stems and apply an herbicide to prevent them from growing back.

What is it? A large tree with prickles and spines on its trunk and stems. Cream-white flowers appear in late summer, followed by small, purplish-black fruits in the fall. Easy to mistake for the native a. spinosa (devil’s walking stick).
Why is it a problem? Aggressive and fast-growing, this ornamental-shrub-turned-nuisance threatens native plants in south Pennsylvania.
How do I get rid of it? Seedlings should be pulled carefully, taking special care to dig out all roots and suckers. Be on the lookout for more seedlings or resprouts. Individual herbicide applications work, as does the removal of its distinctive flowers and fruits.

Pennsylvania’s most invasive aquatic plants

What is it? A deep-water aquatic plant with whorled leaves in bunches of three to eight. Easy to mistake for native waterweeds.
Why is it a problem? Hydrilla grows in dense, floating mats, restricting native vegetation. It can also clog swimming holes and dam water flow, causing streams and ponds to stagnate.
How do I get rid of it? Before traveling to a new area, make sure your boat, fishing equipment, and water sports gear are thoroughly cleaned. Water-draining and systemic herbicidal applications are required to eradicate established hydrilla mats.

What is it? Long, narrow, stiff leaves on 3- to 5-foot-tall grass. The flowers form a cylindrical, furry "cat tail" at the end of the stems. Easily mistaken for native cattails.
Why is it a problem? This fast-spreading cattail can outcompete native plants near lakes, ponds, and rivers. Wetlands are crucial to filtering water and supplying the surrounding wildlife.
How do I get rid of it? Spreads through airborne seeds and underground rhizomes; burn both to control their spread.

What is it? An aquatic plant with a floating crown of round, glossy leaves with toothed edges. Late in July, white flowers form at the center of the stem.
Why is it a problem? Dense, floating mats of water chestnuts consume light and oxygen while offering little food to wildlife. In addition to causing dangerous boating and swimming conditions, they can be extremely costly to remove.
How do I get rid of it? Due to collateral damage caused to other species, chemical controls aren’t recommended. Instead, hand-pulling, floating weed harvesters, and long-term monitoring are required.

How to save on homeowners’ insurance in Pennsylvania

Due to their sheer weight, invasive vines can pull down whole trees. To save yourself an expensive claim, pull any aggressive vines on trees near your house. Then download
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