Invasive Plants and Better Alternatives

Invasive Plants in Northern Virginia, with Tried and True Natives You Can Use Instead

Grasses | Ground Covers | Perennials | Shrubs | Trees | Vines

Some popular, even beloved, plants in Northern Virginia are not as benign as they may appear. Because of their rampant growth habits, plants such as honeysuckle, butterfly bush, periwinkle, and rose of Sharon have become invasive, spreading from backyard plantings to roadsides, streams, fields, and forests where they displace native species, alter natural plant communities, and degrade the environment.

Listed below are selected plants that have been categorized as invasive by Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, and the state of Virginia. The fact sheet for each of these plants describes the problems they pose and suggests native alternatives that have similar characteristics while providing benefits for wildlife.

Non-Native Invasive Plants of Arlington County, Virginia
Non-Native Invasive Plants of the City of Alexandria, Virginia

To help homeowners, the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia social media team is completely revising a set of fact sheets on locally invasive plants in 2020. To accommodate these revisions, the “Problem Plants and Native Alternatives” section under the Resources menu option of the MGNV website is now “Invasive Plants and Better Alternatives.” The revised fact sheets and several new fact sheets will be gradually uploaded to the website, and one fact sheet will be featured each week, both there and on other MGNV social media platforms, throughout 2020.

Each updated sheet describes problems associated with the invasive plant and suggests alternative native species that have similar characteristics and which, additionally, provide benefits for wildlife. Links on these sheets will take readers directly to fact sheets for recommended native species that are featured in our Tried and True Native Plants series.



Problem Plant: Fountain Grass with flowers Photo © Elaine Mills

Invasive Plant: Fountain Grass with flowers
Photo © Elaine Mills

Bamboo (Bambusa, Phyllostachys, and Pseudosasa spp.)
Chinese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)


Ground Covers

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Creeping Liriope (Liriope spicata)
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)



Common Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Italian Arum (Arum italicum)
Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus)


Problem Plant: Nandina in local nursery Photo © Elaine Mills

Invasive Plant: Nandina in local nursery
Photo © Elaine Mills


Asian Viburnums (Viburnum spp.)
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)
Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)
Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Japanese Spiraea (Spiraea japonica)
Nandina (Nandina domestica)
Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealei)
Privets (Ligustrum japonicum & L. sinense)
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)



Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana)
Chinese, Japanese & Siberian Crabapples (Malus hupehensis, M. floribunda, M. baccata)
Chinese and Siberian Elms (Ulmus parviflora & U. pumila)
Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
Non-Native Willows (Salix alba, S. babylonica & S. fragilis)
Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)
Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima)
Sweet Cherry & Higan Cherry (Prunus avium & P. subhirtella)
Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
White Mulberry (Morus alba)

Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) near Washington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia. Photo © 2016 Elaine L. Mills

Invasive Plant: Japanese honeysuckle
Photo © Elaine Mills



Five-Leaved Akebia/ Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata)
Japanese & Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda & W. sinensis)
Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
Porcelainberry (Ampelopsis brevipendiculata)
Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora)

More resources for Mid-Atlantic gardeners:

Best Bets: Plants for Particular Uses
Making Your Yard Sustainable
Gardening Basics for Arlington & Alexandria, VA
Learn More about Invasive Plants
Tried and True Native Plants for the Mid-Atlantic