5 Non-Native Plant Species To Be Concerned About in Hampton Roads

There are invaders among us. Even worse, they’re overtaking natives and, in some cases, slowly choking the life out of them. But you need not run for your life, because these aliens move decidedly slower than Homo sapiens. They are, after all, members of the plant kingdom. That doesn’t mean there’s no reason for alarm; invasive plant species do $34 billion in damage annually in the United States and in many cases destroy native ecosystems.

Earlier this year, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation released a list of 90 non-native, invasive species that have already established a presence in the commonwealth or could pose a threat soon given the right conditions. Below are five species that Hampton Roads communities should be concerned about.

1. Phragmites (Phragmites australis ssp. australis)

non-native plant species hampton roads phragmites

Those reeds swaying in gentle bay breezes are not as peaceful as they seem. Phragmites, or the common reed, offer little value for native wildlife and tower over and crowd out native marsh grasses. Fifty years ago, there was no phragmites in Virginia Beach’s Back Bay. Today that waterway contains 10,000 acres of it.

2. Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

non-native plant species hampton roads tree of heaven

There’s nothing heavenly about this tree, which thrives in edge habitats and shades the understory with its dense, palm-like leaves. A single mature tree can produce 350,000 seeds in a single year. No wonder this fast-growing invader occupies long stretches of Hampton Roads’ fields and roadways.

3. Alligator Weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides)

non-native plants hampton roads alligator weed

Alligator weed is biting into large portions of the region’s shoreline. The aquatic plant grows partially submerged, creating dense mats of surface-level foliage that rob normally-functioning food chains of the sunlight they need to survive.

4. English Ivy (Hedera helix)

non-native plants hampton roads english ivy

Yes, even well-known plants can cause harm given the right circumstances. Lots of Coastal Virginians use English ivy as an ornamental plant to accent their yard, which is fine when it can be easily contained. But people should think twice before planting the persistent vine adjacent to a landscape it could harm, such as an undisturbed forest or a park.

5. Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia)

non-native plants hampton roads beach vitex

This woody vine is a so-called early detection species and not yet widely established in Virginia, and biologists aim to keep it that way. In other coastal communities, people have planted beach vitex on dunes to control erosion, but the plant is so fast-growing and dense it leaves no room for native plants and animals.

What can you do to prevent the spread of invasive species?

-Support public policies that protect native ecosystems.

-Educate yourself and others to be able to recognize invasive species.

-Do not buy, plant or transport non-native plants.

-Report new infestations of invasive species at 800-INVADED

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