Burning bush

On Jan. 10, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture officially added burning bush and four species of privet to the Pennsylvania list of noxious weeds.

According to Pennsylvania law, a noxious weed is “a plant that is determined to be injurious to public health, crops, livestock, agricultural land or other property.” It is easy to understand why some detrimental plants are on the Pennsylvania Noxious Weed List: For example, Canada thistle, poison hemlock and stiltgrass.

But burning bush and privet join the ranks of other popular landscape plants, such as Japanese barberry and Bradford pear, which are recognized as invasive and threatening to the local ecosystem.

Why are burning bush and privet a problem?

As the name implies, burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is known for its fiery red fall color. It also sports attractive red berries, which birds consume and disperse. Burning bush’s ability to thrive in dense shade contributes to it taking over woodland understory areas, crowding out native species.

The name privet (Ligustrum spp.) is synonymous with hedge. Its ability to regenerate after shearing has made it a popular living fence in American gardens, yet this resiliency is also what has caused it to colonize nature areas. Like burning bush, privet is spread by birds consuming berries, which are present on privet almost year-round. Privet also readily sends out new sprouts from the root. The four banned varieties of privet are all similarly invasive. No privet species are native to the United States.

What should residents do?

Due to placement on the Noxious Weed List, nurseries and garden centers are prohibited from selling burning bush or privet after January 2025. Residents who have burning bush and privet on their property are encouraged to remove them.

Both burning bush and privet have qualities that have endeared them to Pennsylvania landscapers and gardeners. But residents may enjoy the following native plants that support wildlife even more appealing.

Replacements for burning bush:

Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) features fragrant, bottle-brush type flowers in spring and colorful fall foliage.

Southern arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) sports clusters of white flowers in spring and fall color ranging from yellow to red.

Eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) has scarlet fruit and fall color similar to burning bush, but is a North American native.

Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) provides a focal point of winter color via striking red stems. Some varieties have yellow stems.

Replacements for privet:

Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra) is green year-round and responds well to shearing.

Red twig dogwood and dwarf fothergilla, described above, can be grown as informal hedges.

— Consider hardscape fencing as a background for native perennials to replace privet.

Burning bush and privet both take a stubborn hold in the garden, so you will probably need the services of a landscape company to remove them.

However, planting native substitutes can be a do-it-yourself task, and the shrubs suggested here should quickly replace their predecessors.

For more native plant suggestions and advice on removing invasives, please reach out to the Garden Hotline: LancasterMG@psu.edu or 717-394-6851.

Lois Miklas is a Penn State Master Gardener for Lancaster County, and a former area Master Gardener coordinator.


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