Chinese privet is frequently found growing in disturbed sites from the northern counties south to Hillsborough county and Miami-Dade county. It is native to China but escaped cultivation.
There are about 50 species of Ligustrum, all native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Ligustrum has been developed into an assortment of ornamental varieties in the U.S. and other parts of the world. In 1852, privet was introduced to the United States for use as an ornamental shrub and is still commonly used as a hedge. Because of Ligustrum’s ability to tolerate air pollution and other poor environmental conditions, it was regarded as a great landscape plant and planted extensively. Unfortunately, this was before its invasive characteristics were discovered. Establishment of privet in many natural areas of Florida has occurred through its escape from cultivation. Glossy privet (L. lucidum) is listed as a Category II species with the potential to disrupt native plant communities in Florida by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. Chinese privet (L. sinense) is a Category I species that is currently disrupting native plant communities in Florida.
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Ligustrum spp. are perennial shrubs that can grow up to 16 feet in height. Ligustrum bark is tan to gray in color with a smooth texture. Leaves are elliptic to ovate in shape, oppositely arranged on twigs. Flowers have both male and female parts. Each flower has petals fused into a tube with four separate lobes. Flowers are borne on small panicles on short lateral branches on the end of the twig. The oblong, blue/black fruit is a drupe containing 1 to 4 seeds. Fruit clusters persist through the winter. Mature trees can produce hundreds of fruit.
L. lucidum (glossy privet) is a large shrub or tree that grows to 30 feet in height, with spreading branches. Leaves are ovate to somewhat lanceolate and 3 to 5 inches long. L. sinense (Chinese privet) is smaller than glossy privet, growing to only 20 feet in height. Leaves are elliptic to somewhat oblong, 1 to 3 inches long, and pubescent on the midrib below.
Ligustrum spp. grows readily from seed or from root and stump sprouts. Wildlife can aid in the dispersal of the seed, often relocating the plant over long distances.
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Ligustrum spp. is capable of invading natural areas such as floodplain forests and woodlands. The aggressive nature of privets allows for the formation of dense thickets that out compete desirable plants. The amount of seed produced by privet is another mechanism for its prolonged survival. Even though privet is still used in the landscape and available for purchase at garden centers and online distributors, it is an invasive weed and should be treated as such.
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Ligustrum spp. control methods include mechanical controls such as mowing and cutting, physical control such as seedling removal and burning, and chemical control such as herbicide application. Herbicide control measures include foliar spraying in late autumn or early spring with glyphosate, triclopyr, or metsulfuron; cut stump applications using glyphosate or triclopyr; and basal bark applications of triclopyr.
The first step in preventative control of privet is to limit planting and removal of existing plants within the landscape. If possible, removal should occur before seeds are produced. Since seeds remain on the plant for several months, care must be exercised to prevent seed spread and dispersal during the removal process.
Plant native or non-invasive alternatives. Avoid large disturbances that allow for invasive species to colonize.
For smaller infestations or areas where herbicide applications are not feasible mowing and cutting are appropriate. Stems should be cut as close to the ground as possible at least once per growing season. Mowing and cutting will not eradicate Ligustrum spp., but it will provide some level of management. Continuous mowing will work, but frequency is key.
Hand pull young seedlings and small plants. Larger plants may need to be dug out. Plants should be pulled as soon as possible, before they produce seeds. The entire root must be removed to prevent resprouting.
Ligustrum spp. has no known biological control agents.
Foliar applications of glyphosate or cut-stump applications of triclopyr or glyphosate are effective. Stems <0.5 inch diameter are susceptible to basal bark applications of 20% triclopyr-ester (Remedy) in oil. Larger stems must be notched or frilled.
Foliar sprays are effective for dense thickets of Ligustrum. Care must be taken to avoid non-target plants.The ideal time to treat is while plants are in leaf in late autumn or early spring but when many native species are dormant. Triclopyr at 1-2 quarts broadcast rate per acre or 2% solution are recommended.
The cut stump method should be considered when treating individual shrubs. Immediately after cutting stems at or near ground level, apply a 25% solution of glyphosate and water or triclopyr and water to the cut stump, being careful to cover the entire surface. Effectiveness of the herbicide is increased if holes are cut in the top of the freshly felled stump.
The basal bark method consists of a mixture of 25% triclopyr and 75% horticultural oil applied to the basal parts of the shrub to a height of 12 to 15 inches from the ground. Thorough wetting is necessary for good control; spray until run-off is noticeable at the ground line.
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References and Useful Links
Invasive and Exotic Species of North America
University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Electronic Data Information Source
Langeland, K.A. and K. Craddock Burks. 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. IFAS Publication SP 257. University of Florida, Gainesville. 165 pp.
The Plant Conservation Alliance’s Alien Plant Working Group. Weeds Gone Wild: Alien Plant Invaders of Natural Areas
Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER). Plant Threats to Pacific Ecosystems
Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Plants Database: http://plants.usda.gov
Batcher, M.S. 2000. ELEMENT STEWARDSHIP ABSTRACT for Ligustrum spp. Privet. The Nature Conservancy. Consulting Ecologist and Environmental Planner, 1907 Buskirk-West Hoosick Road, Buskirk, NY.
Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council
University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Circular 1529, Invasive Species Management Plans for Florida, 2008 by
Greg MacDonald, Associate Professor Jay Ferrell, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Brent Sellers, Assistant Professor and Extension Weed Specialist
Ken Langeland, Professor and Extension Weed Specialist Agronomy Department, Gainesville and Range Cattle REC, Ona
Tina Duperron-Bond, DPM – Osceola County
Eileen Ketterer-Guest, former Graduate Research Assistant
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Chinese privet – Ligustrum sinense
Hello, I’m Pat Minogue, with the University of Florida, talking about Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), which is an invasive weed very common throughout the southeastern United States. It’s often found in fencerows and at the edges of forests. It’s very shade tolerant. It can grow in the understory of forests, but tends to be most prolific at the edges of stands. As its name implies, Chinese ligustrum is native to China. Another common name is Chinese privet. It is considered invasive in much of the southeastern U.S. Chinese privet grows in very dense thickets and can get up to 12 feet tall. A variegated form is cultivated that is not known to produce viable seed; but it will propagate vegetatively. You’ll see many runners and rhizomes sprouting from the ground. It’s common to see this in our yards. Twigs are hairy. Leaves are opposite; simple, all green. Leaf blades are about 1-1/2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. They are elliptic with blunt tips, and entire margins. The mid-vein on the underside of the leaf is hairy. Leaf petioles are short and hairy. Chinese ligustrum produces many small, white flowers that are often considered unpleasantly fragrant. They occur on slender, hairy stalks and narrow, cone-shaped panicles on the terminal end of branchlets. Here in late September, the fruits are a light green; but with time, they turn a dark-blue to even black, as the winter progresses. The fruit is very persistent and will remain on the branch until early spring. Many varieties of ligustrum are still sold by ornamental nurseries, commonly planted in landscapings. But be careful with this plant; it spreads prolifically. It produces so many of these seeds, which are favored by many bird species that spread the plant throughout the countryside. Dispersal is a real problem with this invasive species. It can easily get out of control.
See more information and pictures about Chinese privet, as contained in the Langeland/Burks book, Identification & Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas (1998).
EDIS publication: Biology and Management of Chinese Privet by Rick Williams and Patrick Minogue.
EDIS publication: Ligustrum Weevil (suggested common name), Ochyromera ligustri Warner (Insecta: Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Tychiinae: Tychiini: Endaeina) by J. P. Cuda, M. C. Zellar, and M. C. Thomas.
View the herbarium specimen image from the University of Florida Herbarium Digital Imaging Projects.
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1. Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition,
by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 257. 2008.
2. Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know – Recognition Cards,
by A. Richard and V. Ramey. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 431. 2007.
3. Integrated Management of Nonnative Plants in Natural Areas of Florida, by K. A. Langeland, J. A. Ferrell, B. Sellers, G. E. MacDonald, and R. K. Stocker. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 242. 2011.
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