These Invasive Plants Put on a Show During the Fall, But—Don't Be Fooled—They're Bad News

Burning Bush with Turning Leaves
Photo: Getty/Laszlo Podor

Any gardener can tell you that there are some gorgeous plants that are worse than bad houseguests. Invasive species can take over a garden, sending up shoots in every direction. They grow fast, reproduce quickly, and tend to put up with any sort of environment just so they can stick around longer, all while hogging up space and resources from the plants that were there first. Ask a gardener about Japanese knotweed and they may shudder in horror at the nefarious plant's ability to spread absolutely anywhere.

Despite the fact that invasive species are real pests, some of them are incredibly beautiful, brought over from Europe or Japan for use as ornamental additions to a garden. These plants settled in, adapted to their new climate where they may have no natural enemies like insects or disease, and just started spreading—and spreading and spreading. While invasive plants are a well-known phenomenon in the South (kudzu, anyone?) some of these shrubs put on such glorious displays in autumn that well-meaning landscapers and gardeners will occasionally still plant them without recognizing the environmental challenge they have just laid down.

Here are six invasive species that look beautiful in fall, but can wreak havoc on gardens and beyond.

01 of 06

Japanese Spiraea

Pink Flowers on Japanese Spiraea

This plant, which is also known as Japanese meadowsweet, has garland-like blooms in pink and white in spring and summer and then puts on a colorful display come autumn. It is an incredibly durable shrub that can tolerate cold and heat and poor soil. That is why it delights some gardeners eager to have a hardy plant that thrives in nearly every condition. It's that same tenacity that makes Japanese spirea such a successful invasive species, though. According to the USDA's invasive species website, it grows rapidly, can take years to remove, and can quickly choke out native herbs and shrubs.

02 of 06

Sweet Autumn Clematis

Sweet Autumn Clematis Bush Covered in White Flowers

Sweet autumn clematis is undoubtedly a good-looking plant with a sweet aroma and delicate white flowers. That attractiveness belies a pernicious streak and the ability to grow, grow, grow. This results in the ability to quickly overwhelm a landscape and choke out native plants. It is also toxic to dogs, cats, horses, and any human that might think it looks tasty. Even without eating it, the plant can cause skin redness and burning for some people.

03 of 06

Winged Euonymus

Burning Bush with Turning Leaves
Getty/Laszlo Podor

Also known as burning bush, this entire shrub turns a bright, brilliant red or pink that glows in the sun in the autumn. In addition to the striking foliage, the euonymus sprouts reddish-orange berries that add to the plant's alluring color palette. It's certainly a looker, but gardeners know that this shrub is incredibly invasive, spreads quickly, and out-competes many native plant species for water, sun, soil nutrients, and space. While some landscapers love it for its bright hues, it frequently spreads way outside the garden and can invade nearly any plot of land as it likes both sun and shade.

04 of 06

Autumn Olive

Autumn Olive Berries

Native to Asia and first brought to the U.S. back in 1830, the autumn olive, or autumnberry, is a hardy shrub that can thrive in most environments. The bush sprouts silvery leaves and, come early fall, produces brilliant red berries that are reportedly delicious and edible by humans and wildlife alike. While it was once prized for its ability to tolerate harsh climates and quickly spread across damaged landscapes, like mining sites and forest fire-ravaged areas, it is now recognized by many states and the USDA as an invasive species. Thanks to the 200,000 or so seeds it produces each year, it reproduces easily and spreads quickly, taking over swaths of land and choking out other species.

05 of 06


Red Nandina Berries Surrounded by Glossy, Pointed Green Leaves

Also known as heavenly or sacred Bamboo, nandina is a common ornamental shrub known for its beautiful bright red berries and glorious fall display. It was brought to the U.S. from Asia back in 1804 and used as a decorative addition to gardens ever since. However, the plant grows incredibly tall, blocking sun from other plants, and reproduces both by seed and root fragments, making it incredibly difficult to contain or get rid of. Despite its gorgeous autumn colors, it is classified as an invasive species in parts of the South, including North Carolina and Florida.

06 of 06

Japanese Barberry

Japanese Barberry Bush
Getty/Barry Winiker

The fiery red and purple hue that Japanese barberry take on in autumn is striking. In addition to its glorious fall foliage, the plant produces beautiful red fruit in autumn and winter, giving a desirable pop of color to otherwise barren landscapes. However, birds pluck the fruit and spread the seeds everywhere they fly, helping the barberry spread and spread. It's believed to have spread to 32 states so far, competing for limited resources with native species. Not only does it spread relentlessly, stamping out local plants along the way, but it is also considered to be a desirable home for ticks.

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