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Support Your Local Ecosystem: Replacing Invasive Species with the Right Native Plants

Support Your Local Ecosystem: Replacing Invasive Species with the Right Native Plants

When an invasive species is removed from an area, replanting with native species is an important next step. Replanting offers habitat to wildlife, can help prevent erosion, and establishes a hardy competitor to incursion from invasive species. But knowing which native plant to use can be tricky, and because ill-suited natives will be outcompeted by invasives, it is of the utmost importance. Here are descriptions of a few common invasive plants in our area, and some native candidates to replace each.

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)  

Multiflora rose is a sprawling shrub that races across pastures, hedges, roadsides and open forested areas creating dense thorny thickets as it spreads.

Replace with:

  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)    Witch hazel is a large shrub that thrives in well-shaded forests with low to moderate moisture, though it tolerates a wide range of conditions. It provides bright yellow blooms in autumn, and cover for birds in winter.
  • Other alternatives: winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), or American hazelnut (Corylus americana)

Witch Hazel

Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana). Photo: T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University,

Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius)   

Wineberry is an aggressively spreading shrub with sharp spines. Often found in woodlands, it spreads through seeds and suckering branches, and can outcompete native understory species.

Replace with:

  • Maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)    Maple-leaf viburnum is a low, densely branched shrub. Autumn foliage and blue berries make it attractive in the fall. The berries, twigs and leaves are a food source for a variety of wildlife, and the low branching provides nesting habitat and protective cover. It grows best in well-drained, moist soils with partial shade, and is a common understory species in beech-maple forests.
  • Other alternatives: coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), deer berry (Vaccinium stamineum)

Maple-leaf viburnum

Maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium). Photo: Albert F. W. Vick, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

Japanese Barberry is a small shrub that grows quickly and forms dense thickets, often in woodlands. Japanese Barberry has been linked to Lyme disease, as higher densities of white-footed mice and adult deer ticks are found under barberry bushes than under native shrubs.

Replace with:

  • Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum)    Deerberry is a small deciduous shrub that prefers well-drained soils. It does best in partial shade or full sun. Deerberry offers delicate white flowers in summer, and the berries and twigs are eaten by a variety of wildlife. 
  • Other alternatives: pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), rosebay rhodendron (Rhododendron maximum)


Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum). Photo: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International,

Winged Euonymus (Euonymus alata)  

Winged Euonymus is an invasive shrub native to northeastern Asia that has invaded the eastern U.S. The shrub is easily identified by its corky ‘wings’ that grow out from the stems in four directions.  Popular for its fall color, a shining red, it is often planted in suburban yards and gardens. Winged Euonymus spreads rapidly via bird-dispersed seeds and suckering which produces dense thickets and crowds out native plants.                   

Replace with:

  • Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)   Nannyberry is a large shrub that does well in sun or shade, dry or wet soils. A viburnum, it blooms in spring and provides nectar for birds and insects. Berries that persist into winter are a food source for birds and mammals.
  • Other alternatives:  highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine), yellow-root (Xanthorhiza simplicissima), possumhaw (Viburnum nudum), false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticose)


Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago). Photo: R.W. Smith, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)  

Pachysandra is a member of the boxwood family that is popular in gardens for its tolerance of full shade and its tendency to form dense carpets of groundcover. These same qualities make it a dangerous invasive species that can penetrate forests and stream banks and kill the native understory. The Japanese Pachysandra terminalis is on the Pennsylvania DCNR’s Watch List.

Replace with:

  • Partridgeberry (Mitchella repen)   Partridgeberry is a creeping perennial herb that can serve as an attractive groundcover. It grows best in shady, woodland environments. White flowers bloom in summer, and bright red berries that persist through the winter are eaten by a variety of birds and mammals.
  • Other alternatives:  striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculate), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), ramps (wild leek) (Allium tricoccum)


Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens). Photo: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International,

Many invasive plants were originally introduced because they were adaptive to a range of conditions and are aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately they have spread rapidly, causing damage to native ecosystems. Many of these species are still propagated and sold in nurseries locally and across the country. Let’s encourage healthy ecosystems in our own environment by choosing to plant these beautiful native species.