5 Native Plant Alternatives To Invasive Species

 5 Native Plant Alternatives To Invasive Species

What Is An Invasive Plant?

There are two primary categories to consider when looking at plant species – native and non-native plants. Non-native plants are defined as those that did not naturally occur in a certain environment. Whereas native plants are defined as a plant that naturally occurs in that environment without human introduction. In this articles, we will outline 5 native alternatives to invasive species. 

An invasive plant falls under the non-native category of plants. Invasive species are often introduced to a region by humans. These non-native plants spread so aggressively that they will often push out other plants by outcompeting them for limited and critical resources.

(Featured Image: Blue Phlox by Danielle Blue)

How Are Invasive Plants Introduced?

Invasive plants are generally introduced by humans in one way or another. Sometimes this introduction may be intentional, such as using an invasive ornamental plant in landscaping that can spread to surrounding areas. 

Oftentimes invasive plant introduction can also be accidental. Seeds can easily stick to the bottoms of shoes and can be carried to other areas. Our globalized world can accidentally introduce an invasive species through shipping goods from one country to another, without realizing the uninvited stowaways that have tagged along for the journey.

How To Find Out If A Plant Is Invasive

Invasive plants are not always obvious to the eye. Some invasive plants closely resemble other native or non-native, non-invasive species we have in our area. There are some traits that most invasive species have in common, such as:

  • Very rapid growth and reproduction
  • A large number of seeds for easy spreading
  • Few natural predators, low insect activity
  • Difficult to remove or kill

Some invasive species may be difficult to identify. Local conservation districts and invasive species networks can help with the identification of invasive plants. Native plant nurseries, such as Bright Lane Gardens, can also help with identification as well as offer alternatives to grow in place of invasive plants.

Why Are Invasive Plants A Problem?

There are many non-native plants in our region that do not technically pose a threat to our greater ecosystem. Although these plants are not native, they are often not aggressive growers and can offer some benefits such as food and nectar for some of our local birds and insects. 

When a non-native plant grows aggressively and prevents other native species from being able to inhabit a certain area, that is when we define the plant as invasive. Invasive plants will compete for resources such as soil, water, sunlight, and nutrients, which in turn prevents native species from being able to survive.

How To Remove Invasive Plants

Some invasive plants can be simple and straightforward to remove. Those that utilize simple root structures and self seed to spread can often be pulled during a dormant period when no seed pods are at risk of being dropped (and thus spreading further).

Other invasive plant species are not as easy to remove. Those that spread in a vine, such as myrtle, can have vast root systems that are tricky to completely remove. Others may spread via underground rhizomes, which makes it difficult to figure out how much of the plant is still living underground.

Removing invasive plants by hand is always the first recommendation. Dig up as much of the physical plant as you can first, paying close attention to the plant’s roots. Larger shrubs and trees may need to be cut down, then have the trunk brushed with an herbicide to ensure the roots will die completely.

What To Plant In Place Of Invasive Species

Native plants are the best alternative to invasive species. Once an invasive species is removed, there is often a blank spot that will need to be filled with a new plant. Choosing a native option will help bring your landscaping and backyard ecosystem back to equilibrium.

If you’re looking for something with a similar vibe to what you pulled out, try to look for a native option that closely resembles the invasive species that was removed. If you removed a low growing vine, look for a native ground cover that will grow low and thick. If you removed a larger tree, look for a native tree alternative that can offer shade and be a cornerstone for your yard.

5 Native Plant Alternatives To Invasive Species

For every invasive plant, there is a native alternative that looks similar but is highly beneficial to its surrounding habitat. First, look for the features of the invasive plant that you enjoyed. This may be large, color blooms, beautiful foliage, or the size of the plant. 

Once you’ve identified what features you enjoy, you can start searching for a native alternative that will suit your needs. You should also consider what features of native plants you would like to have in your yard as well, such as habitat for butterflies or berries for birds.

1. Creeping Thyme vs. Creeping Jenny

I used to be a big fan of creeping Jenny! I loved the way it filled out my planters, and the way it draped over some of our rock walls in the backyard. Unfortunately, this plant is unfortunately very invasive to our area (and as we already know, it spreads quickly and effectively). It is considered a High-Priority invasive ornamental in northern Michigan and we recommend removing it completely from your planters and landscaping.

Fortunately, there is a great native alternative! Creeping Thyme grows in the same fashion as creeping Jenny – spreading quickly and drooping over the edges of planters and retainer walls. Creeping Thyme also boasts a ton of pink/purple blooms that last for up to 6 weeks and attract all the bees you could hope for!

A comparison photo of creeping thyme, which is a native plant and a good alternative to the invasive creeping jenny.

Creeping Thyme vs Creeping Jenny

2. Blue Phlox vs. Dame’s Rocket

If you love the look of a blanket of tiny blooms, you don’t have to settle for an invasive species! While the flowers of Dame’s Rocket are beautiful to the eye, this species is aggressively invasive to our region. A single plant can spread as many as 20,000 seeds in a single season, pushing out valuable native plants once they germinate. 

Blue Phlox, on the other hand, is a wonderfully helpful, native species in Northern Michigan! This plant can grow a blanket of dense, colorful blooms that are truly showstoppers when planted in groups. This is a great choice if you are looking for a colorful ground cover. Blue Phlox are an excellent food source for butterflies as well as many other local pollinators.

Blue Phlox vs Dame’s Rocket

3. Bearberry vs. Mytle/Periwinkle

Myrtle, sometimes referred to as periwinkle, has been a common ground cover option in northern Michigan for many years. While this plant is a hardy ground cover that can spread quickly, it is also a top-priority invasive species here in northern Michigan. We have been trying to remove it from our yard for years, and trust me – it is not an easy task!

A perfect alternative to myrtle is Bearberry! This hardy ground cover is native to Northern Michigan and loves our soil and climate. This evergreen plant features bright green foliage in spring and summer that turns a vibrant red/orange in the fall. And just in case I haven’t sold you yet, Bearberry also boasts beautiful pink blooms in the summer, that turn into bright red berries in the winter.

Bearberry vs Mytrle

4. Gray Dogwood vs. Common Buckthorn

Common Buckthorn is an aggressive invasive species, growing in the understory of taller trees. This plant can produce an exceptionally large amount of seeds in a single season. This invasive plant can easily outcompete native species in our area, which is what has earned it a top spot on the Invasive Ornamental Species List!

Gray Dogwood is our top choice for a Buckthorn alternative. It boasts delicate white blossoms in the spring, and deep blue berries in the fall (which are very popular with our local birds)! This native tree averages 3-8 feet in height, but can grow up to 15 feet if left without any pruning. This non-aggressive tree is a great cornerstone to any landscaped area!

Gray Dogwood vs Common Buckthorn

5. Winterberry Holly vs. Japanese Barberry

Often planted for its pretty fall foliage and winter berries, this invasive species is very common to find in northern Michigan backyards. Not only does Japanese barberry outcompete native plants in our region, it is also a common habitat for ticks in northern Michigan. If you’ve ever tried to remove a Japanese barberry, you may recall it has some wicked thorns as well!

Winterberry Holly is a beautiful alternative that is native to Michigan. In addition to the fall colors and winter berries that the Japanese barberry has, Winterberry Holly also provides habitat for Elfin Butterfly larvae, and supports numerous pollinators in the summer months. The winter berries of this shrub will also attract numerous native birds, who will often choose to nest there for the season.

A comparison photo of the native winterberry holly to plant in place of the invasive Japanese barberry.

Winterberry Holly vs Japanese Barberry

Check out our social media feed for our weekly Plant This, Not That series. Every week we identify a commonly found invasive species here in Northern Michigan, and recommend a native alternative that can do everything the invasive plant can, and more!

What Makes Native Plants Better For The Environment?

Native plants help balance out their natural ecosystems. Plants that are native to a region are beneficial to the plants and animals that surround them. These plants can offer habitat and food for our insects, birds, and animals.

Native plants also have root systems and water requirements that are best adapted for the region they’re in. This means the soil that is already present, along with the climate and weather conditions, are already perfect for sustaining the plant. Native plants are beneficial to the soil, adding back essential nutrients as they go through their life cycle as well as preventing erosion.

Buy Native Plants, Avoid Invasive Species

The key to eliminating invasive species is to make sure that you are introducing more into the wild. When shopping for plants for your own yard, make sure you shop at reputable nurseries that are committed to keeping invasive species off their shelves and out of your landscaping.

Bright Lane Gardens is committed to providing only non-invasive species for sales to our local customers. Our inventory is double checked every year to ensure no plant we carry has been added to an invasive species list. We carry a wide variety of native alternatives that are ideal for our region of Northern Michigan. Together, we can help our local ecosystem get back to its native roots.

An up close photo of the blue flower of the native spiderwort plant.

Common Spiderwort by Joshua Mayer