The Invasives Invading My Garden

By Mary Ellen Ellis | June 12, 2022
by Mary Ellen Ellis
June 12, 2022

Every region, community, and local neighborhood has its own invasive plant problem. In my neighborhood, I see several. They choke out native plants. While some are attractive, I would never consciously grow them. Still, some get into the yard, whether I like it or not. 

Common Buckthorn

This understory shrub fills in every nook and cranny it can find in the margins of gardens in my neighborhood. I see it along the edges of woodlands and along sidewalks on my neighborhood runs. 

Buckthorn is not an unattractive shrub with its glossy leaves and black berries, but it’s incredibly harmful. Aside from choking out natives, it actually poisons certain animals. A compound in buckthorn called emodin gets into soil and water and is toxic to frogs. When birds eat the berries, they get a laxative effect, which can lead to dehydration and death. 


Southeast Michigan is a low-lying, swampy wetland. Much of it has been drained for development, but pockets of wetlands persist with native cattails and the red-winged blackbirds that rely on them. 

Unfortunately, I have witnessed the invasive phragmite, a type of reed, take over and push out cattails from many areas right around my own home. Growing up to 13 feet (4 m.) tall and in extremely dense stands, it literally chokes out other life. Animals can’t get through it, and sunlight can’t penetrate it. 

Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard is small and unassuming. It has heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers and only grows about two feet tall. In my neighborhood, I see it all over the forest floor. It spreads extremely rapidly and is nearly impossible to eradicate. 

While it looks harmless, garlic mustard releases toxic compounds into the soil to kill off its competition. In areas where it proliferates, tree seedlings struggle to survive and many never reach maturity. 

My Favorite Non-Natives

Invasives are so destructive and damaging to native ecosystems that I would never intentionally grow them. This doesn’t mean I only grow native plants, though. I enjoy several non-native species in my yard that are much friendlier than the invasive types: 

  • Day lilies
  • Hostas
  • Peonies
  • Impatiens
  • Coleus
  • Lavender 

None of these are in danger of being invasive, so I feel good about enjoying them in my garden. They add cheerful color, delicious aromas, and a tropical feel on my patio without risking the local ecosystem. 

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