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9 Most Common Invasive Plants in Massachusetts (And 18 Native Alternatives)

Numerous plants from other parts of the world have been introduced to New England — and other areas of the US due to their beautiful flowers, stunning fall foliage, and other attractive qualities. Unfortunately, many of these plants spread aggressively and have escaped their bounds to wreak havoc on local ecosystems. They displace native species that provide essential food sources and habitats for native wildlife and can be incredibly difficult to remove.

By learning about some of the most common invasive plants in Massachusetts gardens, you can watch for any of these weeds masquerading as landscaping plants in your own yard. Nearly all invasive plants have equally attractive native alternatives that you can plant instead.

Pink multiflora roses.

Common Invasive Plants in Massachusetts

If you recognize any of the following invasive plants growing on your property, look up proper control techniques or contact your local Extension Office for instructions or help with removal. Then choose one of the beautiful native plants we recommend as alternatives!

1. Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Autumn olive flowers

A drought-tolerant deciduous shrub, autumn olive can grow up to 20 feet tall and at least as wide, and it will happily take over an open field if given the chance. Look for narrow, ovate, wavy leaves with silvery undersides. White tubular flowers bloom in spring, and bright red berries with silver speckles appear in fall.

Native red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and winterberry (Ilex verticillata) also produce vibrant red berries in the fall, providing winter interest and attracting birds.

30 Red Chokeberry Seeds for Planting - Aronia arbutifolia - Aronia Berry Tree

2. Black swallow-wort (Cynanchum louiseae)

Black swallow wort seedpods.

Black swallow-wort, a perennial herbaceous vine, grows up to six feet long in fields and along roadsides and forest edges. It has narrow, dark green leaves that grow in pairs. The dark purple summer flowers have five petals and resemble stars. It is toxic to livestock as well as monarch butterflies and other insects.

While no native vines have the same unique flower as black swallow-wort, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) feature beautiful fall foliage and stunning blooms, respectively.

Lonicera Native Coral Honeysuckle Potted Plant

3. Common and glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica, Frangula alnus)

Common Buckthorn berries.

Although they come from different genera, common and glossy buckthorn have very similar appearances and are both invasive. These small trees have oval leaves and dark fall berries. Common buckthorn has sharp spines and orange inner bark, and glossy buckthorn is named for its shiny, dark green leaves.

Pagoda dogwood (Swida alternifolia) has a very similar appearance, and chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) also makes a nice alternative.

1 oz Seeds (Approx 415 Seeds) of Cornus alternifolia, Alternate Leaf Dogwood, Pagoda Dogwood, Swida alternifolia, Blue Dogwood

4. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

White blooming garlic mustard plant.

The most fun way to control garlic mustard is to eat it! The leaves of this biennial woodland herb have a garlicky flavor that’s great in pesto or even on homemade pizza. Look for serrated, heart-shaped leaves and, at the top of the three-foot, second-year plants, tiny white flowers in spring. Crushing a leaf will release a garlic smell.

For similar foliage, plant Canada wild ginger (Asarum canadense), or try white wood-aster (Eurybia divaricata) for tiny white flowers.

CHUXAY GARDEN 25 Seeds Asarum Canadense,Canada Wild Ginger,Snake Root, Black Snakeweed,Vermont Snakeroot Ground Cover Landscaping Rocks Excellent Addition to Garden

5. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

A low-growing shrub, Japanese barberry has small, oval leaves with thin spines at the nodes. It produces red, oblong berries that persist through winter. If you’re not sure, cut a stem to see if it has the telltale bright yellow interior.

Similar small native shrubs include running serviceberry (Amelanchier spicata), which features spring flowers and summer berries, and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), a spreading shrub with vibrant fall foliage and red berries.

1 oz Seeds (Approx 4651 Seeds) of Amelanchier spicata, Dwarf Serviceberry, Thicket Shadbush

6. Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)

Japanese knotweed.

Japanese knotweed thrives in a range of conditions and grows up to 10 feet tall. The hollow stems of this herbaceous perennial turn red to green as they mature, and the broad, oval leaves have pointed tips. Look for spikes of tiny white flowers blooming above the foliage in late summer.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) and boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) also have feathery, white summer blooms and similar heights.

CHUXAY GARDEN 5 Seeds Thalictrum Aquilegiifolium,Meadow Rue,Rue,French Meadow Rue, Feathered Columbine Low Maintenance Trouble Free Bushy Plant Marvelous Accent Landscape

7. Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)

Multiflora rose bush.

Multiflora rose has white spring blossoms and sharp, curved thorns. The alternate compound leaves each have five to 11 sharply toothed leaflets and fringes on the leaf stem. Although it typically grows on the edges of forests or fields, multiflora rose can also appear in other areas.

Lovely native roses include the Virginia rose (R. virginiana) and Carolina rose (R. carolina).

1 oz Seeds (Approx 2937 Seeds) of Rosa virginiana, Virginia Rose

8. Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

Oriental bittersweet, also called Asiatic bittersweet

Oriental bittersweet, also called Asiatic bittersweet, is an aggressive, fast-growing vine that can grow up to 10 feet in a single year. It wraps around trees, girdling and even climbing over top of them. The vine has oval leaves and scarlet berries with yellowish outer skins.

Plant American bittersweet (C. scandens) or another native vine, like fox grape (Vitis labrusca), instead.

10 Purple Concord Grape Fruit Vine Vitis Labrusca White Flower Seeds

9. Winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus)

Burning bush

Also called burning bush, winged euonymus has vibrant red fall foliage and tan ridges, or wings, along its dark green branches. Its opposite leaves taper at both ends, and red fruits appear in summer. Winged euonymus grows to about 10 feet tall.

Similar native shrubs include Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and American cranberry bush viburnum (Vibrunum opulus var. americanum).

Live plant from Green Promise Farms Itea virginica Scentlandia (Sweetspire) Shrub, 3-Size Container, White Flowers

Now that you know what to look for keep an eye out for these common invasive plants of Massachusetts. And if you do recognize one in your yard, make sure to remove it properly and then choose one of the many beautiful native alternatives to replace it! The native birds, butterflies, and other wildlife will thank you.

9 most common invasive plants in Massachussetts.
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Serena Manickam is a freelance editor and writer and sustainable market gardener in rural Virginia. She holds a BA in environmental science and runs Fairydiddle Farm, a small market garden in which she grows no-spray produce and herbs to sell at a local farmer’s market.

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