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Creeping Death: Invasive Plants of Appalachia

Updated: Feb 7, 2023


Despite being rooted in the ground, plants have a variety of means to spread into new territories—including by people who bring them into farms and gardens far away from their native habitat. In some cases, plants thrive in the absence of their usual competition and begin overtaking wherever they find themselves.


Just about anyone who grew up in the South within the last century would recognize the foreboding sight of kudzu binding up and choking out the amorphous giants of dead trees underneath. Even though many of the invasive plants listed below came to Appalachia for use in gardening, people once thought kudzu would help control erosion. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted these vines all over North America without knowing the consequences it would lead to almost a hundred years later.


 

Kudzu (Pueraria montana)
Kudzu (Pueraria montana)

Vines


kudzu (Pueraria montana): native to eastern Asia


ivy (Hedera helix): native to Eurasia


wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei): native to eastern Asia


gold-and-silver honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica): native to eastern Asia


oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus): native to eastern Asia



Italian arum (Arum italicum) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Italian arum (Arum italicum) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Weeds


garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata): native to Eurasia and northern Africa


Italian arum (Arum italicum): native to Mediterranean Eurasia and northern Africa


mock strawberry (Potentilla indica): native to eastern and southern Asia


creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens): native to Eurasia and northern Africa


common violet (Viola odorata): native to Eurasia



Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Trees


tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima): native to eastern Asia


princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa): native to eastern Asia


Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana): native to eastern Asia



Asian knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
Asian knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)

Shrubs


multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora): native to eastern Asia


privet (Ligustrum species): native to Eurasia


Asian knotweed (Reynoutria japonica): native to eastern Asia


burning bush (Euonymus alatus): native to eastern Asia


 

Many other plants not mentioned here also pose a threat to Appalachian forests. In addition to directly harming biodiversity, they also have the potential to spread exotic insects and diseases that cause a cascade of environmental destruction.


Indigenous people like the Cherokee and Muscogee tended the Appalachian forests long before the arrival of European settlers and others. Over the last five centuries of colonization, this region has undergone immense changes. With the loss of ancient chestnut trees came opportunities for exotic plants to spread into the broken canopies and hollowed woodlands. In addition to banning the sale and import of the species listed above, communities must come together to recuperate our relationship with nature.


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