Alternatives to Invasives

Barberry, bittersweet and burning bush are three popular plants that can be problematic (as in aggressive or invasive) in many areas. Here are some alternative plants that achieve the same effects.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) has vivid fall foliage and a compact habit, making it a great alternative to the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alata).

Invasive species: Burning bush, winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus)
Grown for: Vivid fall color
Alternatives:
Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia): red-purple fall color
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia): golden fall color
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica): rich red fall color
Witherod (Viburnum nudum): red to purplish fall color

Invasive species: Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Grown for: Fall color, fruit that attracts birds, hedge material
Alternatives:
Common winterberry (Ilex verticillata): dwarf forms are similar to barberry; bright red winter fruits
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica; shown): rich red fall color
Baybery (Myrica pensylvanica): gray fruits attract birds
Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium): fruits and rusty fall color
American cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus var. americanum, syn. V. trilobum): yellow to reddish purple fall color, fruits for birds
More alternatives for barberry

Invasive species: Asiatic bittersweet, Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
Grown for: Interesting fruit, flowers and fall color, vining habit
Alternatives:
American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens): vine with same fruit as Asiatic
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia): vine with great fall color

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7 thoughts on “Alternatives to Invasives

  1. Interesting and informative article. it might be useful, though, to distinguish between “invasive” and “aggressive”. The former refers to plants that expand into neighboring natural areas and outcompete the indigenous native plants. The latter refers to garden “thugs” that become problematic in the garden.

  2. Virginia creeper is not invasive in Colorado. It doesn’t grow as voraciously in the dry climate yet it can handle the heat and strength of our sun. In my neighborhood, it climbs the walls it was meant to climb, but a clip here and there seems to keep it where it belongs. I definately would use caution with ANY vine in the south! I am from NC and I remember how monstrous they get, be it wysteria, jasmine, trumpet vine, or creeper!

  3. Re: the suggestion of using Virginia Creeper as a “noninvasive alternative”- I am in Iowa. I planted Virginia Creeper several years ago, and babied it along to cover a fence and arbor. Now it has taken over a large flower bed, up, around, and even through an old storage shed. I am currently trying to get it under control. I’m not sure who will win this battle, the vine or me! Shrubs and Hostas are arriving soon, so I’m working frantically.

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