Invasive Plants and Better Alternatives

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

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.

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
  • Chinese Silver Grass
  • Fountain Grass

 Ground Covers


  • Common Daylily
  • Lesser Celandine
  • Purple Loosestrife
  • Yellow Flag Iris
Problem Plant: Nandina in local nursery Photo © Elaine Mills

Invasive  Plant: Nandina in local nursery
Photo © Elaine Mills


  • Autumn Olive
  • Burning Bush
  • Bush Honeysuckle
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Heavenly Bamboo
  • Japanese Barberry
  • Japanese Spiraea
  • Leatherleaf Mahonia
  • Privets
  • Rose of Sharon
  • Viburnums


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

Invasive Plant: Japanese honeysuckle
Photo © Elaine Mills


More resources for Mid-Atlantic gardeners: