Privet… sweet fragrance belies an evil heart hidden in verdure.

Have you ever heard the expression “smelling is believing”? No, it’s “seeing is believing”  isn’t it? But for the purpose of today’s column, let’s leave it as “smelling is believing.” The other day as my wife and I walked outside to the car, she took a deep breath and asked, “What is that sweet smell?” I told her that it was Common Privet, otherwise known as Chinese Privet, in bloom. This plant has been flowering lately and its sweet fragrance is virtually everywhere in East Texas.  Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) is native to China but was imported into the Southern States sometime in the early ninetieth century.  It has since become widely naturalized across the South. Landscapers spread and planted it because it was valued as a hedging plant. It tolerates trimming so was used as a tightly clipped, evergreen hedge.  Through the years horticulturists came up with several cultivars; the most notable being a variegated version. The variegated version was marketed in garden centers  across the lower South as a fast growing and colorful shrub. It tolerated city conditions, would grow almost anywhere, so Ligustrum sinense and its variegated cousin became common. The outworking of all this is that Chinese Privet has become a true pest from Central Texas all the way to the east coast and up into Virginia. And when I say ‘pest’, I should say it has become an horticulture monster gobbling up whole regions of countryside, especially in river and creek bottoms where it  forms impenetrable thickets shading out all other forms of plant life. Wildlife, especially birds, eat the abundant fruit that is formed during the winter months and spread the seed, and the seed produced,seems to be especially viable. Abandoned fields are sometimes totally overgrown with privet. Where soil conditions discourage other plants, privet will grow.  So, this week as we took in the sweet smell of blooming Ligutrum sinense, I told my wife, “smelling is not always believing.” The pretty white flowers that are covering privet all over Nacogdoches might smell sweet now, but it is a sign that this plant has escaped cultivation; and, like an opportunist, it has spread itself whether it is wanted or not. I can tell you privet is no longer sold in garden centers, yet Chinese privet is one of the most common shrubs found in the wilds of East Texas. It’s a real sweet-smelling pain in the neck.  Dr. Creech up at SFA tells me the Native Plant Center has received a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant to develop procedures on privet eradications. The Native Plant Center would like to get the creek bottoms below the Tucker House back to a pre Chinese Privet existence. They have declared war on the privet on those forty acres. And it will take an all out war to win the battle. This sweet-smelling plant is tenacious. They are using any weapon at their disposal and are making efforts to come up with new ones. I wish them luck in the fight.  I personally have pulled up thousands of unwanted privet seedlings and saplings in my life, and I remember pruning several variegated privet shrubs in my college days. Those shrubs were a pain in the neck. They required constant pruning to be kept inbounds. I hope they’re dead now. I may go look one day. It’s amazing how a plant can turn on you. Privet, that was once valued for its sweet fragrance and ornamental qualities, no longer is believable when it puts itself forward as a plant of value. It is only an aggressive opportunist. I can confidently say that every privet in a ten block radius of my home is there not because it was planted for some horticulture purpose. It literally is running wild in our neighborhoods. Its sweet fragrance belies an evil heart hidden in verdure.

3 thoughts on “Privet… sweet fragrance belies an evil heart hidden in verdure.

  1. All you ever need to tame privet is a couple
    of goats or sheep. They will eat it down to the GROUND & then when it tries to come up, they will eat it down again. There will never be any fruit for birds to eat & spread, bc the ruminants will eat the blossoms before they bear it. Our herds cannot get ENOUGH privet & bc its an evergreen, I LOVE it as it is something green to eat during the winter. Even one little pygmy goat in your suburban yard will take care of any privet that dares to enter. Problem solved! BTW, privet is extremely toxic to dogs, both the berries & the leaves, so a pygmy goat might be the ideal pet to have anyway!

  2. I have planted them and they grow as I water and feed them, giving me privacy from the street and delicious smell in the Spring, and food for the birds. Enough already wit hthe ” invasive ” species business. Everything is invasive. Borage is invasive in my garden, irises are invasive, thankfully, , Eucalyptus are invasive, Chinese Thallow is very invasive Bamboo is highly invasive , poppies , California poppies are invasive, roses are invasive, everything that goes into bloom in a good environment is invasive. That is the purpose of life I have them all . and I love them all it is the law of the fittest. Earth did not ask us our opinion while growing stuff as fast as it can

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