Native to: China, Vietnam and Laos
Chinese privet was introduced to the United States as an ornamental shrub in 1852 and was observed to have escaped from cultivation in the Southeast by the 1930s. Tolerant of low light conditions and poor soils, it has colonized abandoned homesteads, vacant lots, pastures and forests and is now regarded as one of the major weeds of woodland habitats in the southeastern United States. It was added to the Florida Noxious Weed List in 2014. There are several cultivars with variegated leaves that are popular horticultural subjects, but only the variegated cultivar ‘Variegatum’ was excluded from Florida’s Noxious Weed List. The ‘Variegatum’ cultivar is considered a non-invasive, sterile form although research into the viability of its seeds continues.
Habit: evergreen to semi-deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow to 16 feet high. Bark is tan to gray in color with a smooth texture and branchlets are densely pubescent. Root system is shallow, but extensive, and frequently produces suckers
Leaves: elliptic to somewhat oblong, 1 to 3 inches long, and pubescent on the midrib below, 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.
Fruit/Seeds: oblong, blue/black fruit is a drupe containing 1 to 4 seeds. Fruit clusters persist through the winter. Mature trees can produce hundreds of fruits. White and odorous.
Distribution in Florida: widely distributed across the panhandle and northern peninsula. Also reported from Miami-Dade, St. Lucie, and Hillsborough Counties.
Chinese privet produces abundant root suckers, forming dense thickets over time. Thickets of plants produce very large quantities of fruit, which are consumed and dispersed by birds, as well as white-tailed deer. Seeds are also spread by water and in garden waste. Dense infestations crowd out native vegetation reducing growth and survival rates and have negative impacts on nutrient availability and succession in forest habitats. Both the foliage and fruit of Chinese privet are reportedly poisonous to humans and livestock, but the toxic principle is not definitely known. This species can serve as an alternate host for the citrus whitefly, Dialeurodes citri.
Do not plant.
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. Replace with native plants.
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.
Although no classical biological control agents have been developed for Ligustrum sinense, the non-native seed attacking Ligustrum weevil has been found in established populations. Learn more.
Cut stump: should be considered when treating individual shrubs. Immediately after cutting stems at or near ground level apply herbicide 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. 25% Garlon 3A or 25% glyphosate product.
Basal bark: 15–20% Garlon 4 or 100% Pathfinder II. Stems <0.5 inch diameter are susceptible to basal bark applications, larger stems must be notched or frilled.
Foliar: 3–5% glyphosate product. Foliar treatment is effective for dense thickets of Ligustrum and best done in the late fall and early winter.
UF IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas
View records and images from University of Florida Herbarium