Prevent ‘serious damage’ to your garden by ‘avoiding’ these 3 plants

Japanese knotweed: Phil Spencer discusses plant

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An invasive plant can be defined as any plant that grows where you don’t want to and does it in a way that makes it hard to control. It doesn’t have to be a weed, and invasive plants are by no means always ugly specimens. They are able to spread so successfully through a number of traits: they grow fast, reproduce quickly, adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions, and can even alter their growth habits to better suit the new location. To help identify a few invasive garden plants, Express.co.uk spoke to Viktor Holas, creator of simplyswider.com, with six years of experience in gardening.

While many garden centres and nurseries continue to sell some selected invasive plants, the expert warned that invasive plants can cause “serious damage” and should be “avoided”.

Japanese knotweed

The first plant Viktor listed was Japanese knotweed as it is commonly known for the intensive damage it can create if lurking in a garden.

Probably one of the worst invasive plants in Britain, Japanese knotweed forms dense colonies along roadsides and railways, river banks, waste ground, building sites and around new developments – almost anywhere.

The expert said: “This plant is considered invasive because it can grow rapidly and outcompete native plants, forming dense thickets that can crowd out other vegetation. 

“Studies have shown that this invasive species can reduce the biodiversity of native plants and animals, and can also cause structural damage to buildings, roads, and other infrastructures.”

This sprawling annual grass reaches up to three feet tall and looks like a small bamboo plant. It has multiple weak stems with aerial rootlets near the base and two to four inch long leaves with a whitish vein going down them.

Giant hogweed

Although an impressive sight when fully grown, giant hogweed is invasive and potentially harmful, according to the expert.

He said: “This plant is considered invasive because it can grow extremely tall, up to 20 feet or more, and can quickly take over large areas of land. 

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“Studies have shown that the sap of giant hogweed can cause severe skin reactions, even leading to blindness.”

The plant produces a phototoxic sap, which in the presence of sunlight will cause serious skin burns. This makes walking anywhere that giant hogweed is growing extremely hazardous and as such, it blocks paths and makes gardens dangerous.

Giant hogweed resembles tall, cow parsley-like plants with thick bristly stems that are often purple-blotched.

The flowers are white and have flat-topped clusters, like those of carrots or cow parsley, that face upwards. The flower heads can be as large as 60cm. 

The whole plant can reach a height of 3.5m or more and has a spread of about one to two metres.

Kudzu

While this vine may sound safe as it is in the pea family, this perennial vine from Asia is one of the very worst invasives of all time, and is sometimes ruefully called “the vine that ate the South”.

Viktor said: “This plant is considered invasive because it can grow extremely fast, up to a foot per day, and can quickly cover trees, buildings and anything else in its path.

“Studies have shown that Kudzu can have a detrimental impact on the diversity and structure of native plant communities, and on the animals that depend on them.”

There are two features that make a plant invasive. First, invasive plants spread quickly and easily from one place to another. Sometimes seeds are carried on the wind or in running water, birds may eat them and distribute them in their droppings, seeds may cling to the fur of animals.

Parts of the plants themselves, often the roots, may be spread during road and bridge construction, plants may be dug up from gardens and dumped in the countryside, they can be carried stuck to boats, or planted to brighten up roadsides and developments after construction. 

One way or another, invasive plants are often spread as a result of the actions, usually unintentional, of people.

Second, invasive plants damage native plants in their natural habitats by smothering them, taking over their habitats, stealing nutrients, drying out the soil, blocking waterways and replacing wild plants in their wild habitats. There is also often a secondary effect, when native plants are smothered insects that feed on them lose their food supplies.

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