From dense kudzu to the fast-growing Tree of Heaven, these are 15 of Tennessee’s most invasive plants.
If you live in Tennessee, you know there’s no shortage of plant life in the Volunteer State—but not all of it deserves to thrive. Whether you’ve noticed acres of land moldering away under masses of kudzu or bumped into a multiflora rose fence from the 1800s, you’ve most likely come in contact with Tennessee’s invasive plant species.
Here to help you get better acquainted is
Jerry, the app you can trust to save you money on car and
home insurance. In this article, we’ll cover the 10 established threat plant species and five emerging ones. We’ll also show you how these pesky plants can affect your
Tennessee home insurance needs.
The top 10 established threat plant species in Tennessee
Scientific name:Pueraria montana var. lobata
What it looks like: Semi-woody, climbing and trailing vine with large leaves and purple pea-like flowers
Why it’s a problem: Kudzu—first introduced as a method to abate agricultural soil erosion in the late 1800s and early 1900s—has practically taken over the south. It can grow up to a foot per day, forming a continuous blanket of foliage with twining, trailing, and matting vines that choke out any plants in its path.
What to do: If caught very early, remove the entire plant, including the taproot, and burn it. Large incursions can be cut back to ground level and recut at two-week intervals.
2. Garlic mustard
Scientific name: Alliaria petiolata
What it looks like: Two to 3.5-foot herb with erect, ridged stems and triangular to heart-shaped, toothed leaves. Small, white flowers grow in clusters at the end of each stem
Why it’s a problem: First introduced in Europe as a cooking and medicinal herb, garlic mustard has since spread to 28 states where it is invasive in most. Not only does garlic mustard spread easily via exploding seed pods (think dandelions) but it is also allelopathic, which means it emits chemicals that kill surrounding plants and microbes.
What to do: Eat it—no, seriously. It’s delicious and incredibly high in nutrients. Small growths can be pulled up by the root. If seed pods are present, they should be bagged tightly to prevent seed dispersal. Larger populations of mustard seed can be culled by cutting to ground level while the stems are in flower. Dormant seeds will continue to sprout, but continued annual cuttings should exhaust the seedbed after a few years.
3. Autumn olive
Scientific name: Eleagnus umbellata
What it looks like: Shrub with dark oblong leaves, distinctive silvery scales, and red fruits. It looks like an olive tree with red fruits instead of green—hence the name
Why it’s a problem: Autumn olive first came to North America in the 1830s and was used extensively for wildlife habitat, strip mine revegetation, and windbreaks. The fast-growing shrub is adaptive, competitive, and vigorous and will choke out native species growing in dry, sunny spaces—threatening biodiversity.
What to do: Cut to ground level while in flower, but expect and clip resprouts. To control the spread, pull seedlings as soon as they’re large enough to grasp, but before they can produce seeds.
4. Chinese privet
Scientific name:Ligustrum sinense
What it looks like: Semi-evergreen with gray bark and dense clusters of white flowers in the spring followed by abundant dark blue fruit
Why it’s a problem: Chinese privet first came to North America in the mid-1800s as a landscape plant because it smells divine when in bloom. Unfortunately, it is aggressive and spreads most readily from root and stump sprouts, creating dense thickets and choking out native undergrowth.
What to do: Do not plant it! If it’s already present, mowing or cutting are effective ways to control the spread. Follow with glyphosate or triclopyr for eradication.
5. Multiflora rose
Scientific name: Rosa multiflora
What it looks like: Rose-like shrub with long, arching stems, compound leaves of 5-11 leaflets, and clusters of five-petaled white flowers
Why it’s a problem: First introduced as wildlife cover, living fences, and windbreaks, multiflora can become so dense that you’ll find it planted as a barrier along highways. And that, of course, is the problem—growth occurs so quickly, and multiflora is so hardy that it’s nearly impossible to eradicate once established. The plants form dense, impenetrable thickets—choking out native plant life.
What to do: Avoid planting it, but if you’ve already got it growing on your land, you can control it with repeated mowing or cutting—just be very careful. Multiflora thorns are no joke. Herbicides can also kill larger growths.
6. Mimosa/Silk tree/Silky acacia
Scientific name:Albizia julibissin
What it looks like: Short tree with wide-spreading branches, twice-compound leaves, and light to dark pink thread-like flowers
Why it’s a problem: A popular ornamental tree because of its fragrant and showy flowers, it also seeds prolifically and resprouts quickly when cut. Though the tree is susceptible to Mimosa Wilt, which can quickly kill a thriving tree, mimosa seed coats are impermeable and can protect the seed, and its viability, for years before sprouting.
What to do: Cutting and girdling can be used to cut down larger trees and hand pulling is effective for seedlings. Note that new sprouts will grow from a cut, girdled, or top-killed mimosa tree, so it must be followed by herbicidal treatments.
7. Japanese honeysuckle
Scientific name:Lonicera japonica
What it looks like: Slender, woody vines with hairy red stems and tubular white or yellow flowers
Why it’s a problem: We love American honeysuckle—a sweet-smelling native plant with reddish flowers. But its white or yellow-flowered Japanese cousin is an invasive menace that overwhelms and replaces native flora. Like kudzu, Japanese honeysuckle grows both along the ground and into the forest canopy, sometimes even pulling down trees.
What to do: Be sure you’re planting American honeysuckle, not Japanese. If you encounter Japanese honeysuckle on your property, dig it up by the roots or call your local fire department to perform a controlled burn.
8. Asian/Oriental bittersweet
Scientific name:Celastrus orbiculatus
What it looks like: A woody vine with greenish flowers that develop into yellow seed pods that break open to reveal bright red fruits
Why it’s a problem: Another ornamental and wildlife habitat plant gone wrong, oriental bittersweet strangles native trees and plant life to death. Whether by girdling, cutting off sunlight, or consuming soil resources, oriental bittersweet ensures it’s the only thing growing in a given area.
What to do: Similar to the Chinese privet, mowing and cutting can help control bittersweet. Removal requires digging up the plant by the roots and disposing of it in tightly sealed garbage bags to prevent reestablishment.
9. Tree of Heaven
Scientific name:Ailanthus altissima
What it looks like: A fast-growing tree, reaching heights of 80-100 feet with one-3-foot compound leaves that have glandular teeth near the base
Why it’s a problem: Widely cultivated as a medicinal plant, the Tree of Heaven is invasive across much of Europe and North America. It’s reproduced by wind- and water-dispersed seeds and root sprouts and forms dense stands that choke out other native tree species. Allelopathic effects of the tree also damage or kill nearby plants and inhibit the replanting of native species even after eradication.
What to do: Cut trees to the ground and follow up with recutting and herbicidal treatments.
10. Empress/Princess tree/Royal Paulownia
Scientific name:Paulownia tomentosa
What it looks like: Tall, fast-growing tree with large five to 26-inch long heart-shaped leaves and upright clusters of pink to lavender flowers, up to two inches long
Why it’s a problem: The Princess tree came to the U.S. as a medicinal and ornamental plant, but its fast-growing habits ensured it took over vast areas of land quickly. In addition, it can survive just about anything, including fire, cutting, and even bulldozing.
What to do: Cut trees to ground level and follow up with repeated trimming as the Princess tree reproduces by suckering. Follow-up with herbicidal treatments will be necessary if you don’t wish to recut several times a year until root strength is depleted.
Top five emerging threat plants in Tennessee
While the established threats are already a big problem for Tennessee’s natural habitats and wildlife, these emerging threats may cause serious issues if they’re not managed now.
1. Tropical soda apple
Scientific name:Solanum tampicense
What it looks like: Thorny shrub with white flowers and green/yellow golfball-sized fruits
Why it’s a problem: This plant is native to Argentina and Brazil, and has no known use other than to be a nuisance in every North American state it’s invaded. It spreads rapidly through seeds dropped by cattle and other livestock and wildlife after eating the shrub’s fruits. It forms dense masses in open or semi-shady areas, choking out native species of vegetation.
What to do: Tropical soda apple responds well to herbicidal treatments, but be sure to collect and destroy fruit to prevent reestablishment.
2. Butterfly bush
Scientific name:Buddleja davidii
What it looks like: Semi-evergreen shrub with long, arching stems and tiny, purple, tubular four-petaled flowers arranged in large, dense, cone-shaped masses
Why it’s a problem: This ornamental bush is planted for its beauty, lovely scent, and, as the name would imply, attractiveness to butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Unfortunately, each bush disperses an average of 3 million seeds annually, creating dense colonies that compete with native vegetation.
What to do: Plant sterile varieties of the shrub. We’d never recommend not planting a bush that’s so great for butterflies and bees, but just make sure you choose a sterile hybrid, like “Asian Moon,” “Purple Haze,” and “Ice Chip.” Additional sterile varieties can be found on the
Tennessee Invasive Plant Council’s website.
3. Cogon grass/Japanese Bloodgrass
Scientific name:Imperata cylindrica
What it looks like: Tall, waving grass with fuzzy seed heads
Why it’s a problem: Cogon grass is both aggressively invasive and extremely dangerous. During the growing season, it produces dense, thick mats that spread quickly, excluding other vegetation. In the winter, dry cogon grass becomes highly flammable and burns at extremely hot temperatures.
What to do: The most effective weapon Tennesseans have against cogon grass is glyphosate herbicide.
4. Golden bamboo
Scientific name:Phyllostachys aurea
What it looks like: Several bamboo species are native to Tennessee, but none grow taller than 15 feet. Golden bamboo is a type of bamboo that can reach up to 30 feet on straight, segmented stems with long, strap-like leaves
Why it’s a problem: Golden bamboo can thrive even in the shade, but when given full sun, it grows vigorously, producing dense stands that exclude other vegetation and shade smaller plants that require sunlight to thrive.
What to do: Don’t plant it. Once established, the only means of eradicating it is chemical herbicides.
5. Water caltrop/Water chestnut
Scientific name: Trapa natans
What it looks like: A floating plant that forms in dense, floating mats, often three layers deep. Leaves are sharply toothed and triangular and fruits form in long, sharp, barbed spines
Why it’s a problem: This noxious weed can grow in any freshwater setting, shallow or up to 12 feet deep, and it saps vital nutrients needed by microbes and other aquatic plants. Plus, the spines are evil, sharp enough to pierce the soles of shoes and even car tires.
What to do: Unless you’re a professional, leave it alone. As already noted, the spines on this plant are incredibly dangerous, so infestations can only be managed with specialized methods.
How to save on homeowners’ insurance in Tennessee
While all of these plants are threats to Tennessee’s natural environment, some of them are threats to you and your home. Kudzu has been known to compromise the mortar in a brick wall, and cogon grass is highly flammable. Whether you’ve found these species on your grounds or not, ensure your homeowner’s insurance is adequate to keep you and your home protected.
Unlike most things to do with homeownership, though, ensuring you have solid coverage doesn’t have to cost you extra money—not when you shop with
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