Privet

Numerous species of privets were imported into the United States from Europe and Asia as far back as the 1800’s as ornamental trees for landscape plantings and hedges.  Privets belong to the olive family; most  are multi-stemmed shrubs that can grow up to 12 feet tall.  Privets exhibit deciduous to evergreen characteristics, depending on the species, produce a showy flower in early spring, and abundant purple berries soon thereafter. 

Photo taken in late November shows a very green
and thriving privet near a dormant woodland

Besides their abundant seeds, privets have the ability to reproduce from root sprouts.  Although they prefer deep, moist soils, privets can grow most anywhere, except for extremely dry sites. Privets do best in abundant sunshine, but they can grow in shady conditions, as well.  Abundant seed, dense growth, and ability to thrive in a number of growing conditions makes the exotic privet a prime candidate as an invasive plant; and, it most certainly is, especially in the south east part of the country.  Thousands of acres of bottomland forests have been colonized by privet from the Tidewater of Virginia to Florida.  In some areas, dense groves of privet all but choke out all of the native understory vegetation.  Of all the privets, it is the Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) which is the most problematic, followed by the European and Amur varieties.  In Frederick County, there are small, dense groves of privet in the forest, but certainly nothing like the southern states.  This may change, however, as the range of naturalized privet is beginning to extend northward. Some ecologists speculate that this migration is likely due to a warming trend.  Unwanted privet can be controlled by mechanical or chemical means, but this hearty plant is not easy to manage. It will take a concerted effort to eliminate privet from a forest, especially if it is well established. 

Article & photo by Mike Kay, DNR Forester for Frederick County

Nature Note for 1/6/2018