How to spot common invasive plants lurking in your yard – and the native plants you can replace them with!

As any home gardener knows, a healthy garden can include plenty of variety – annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, perhaps even some edible plants. However, when selecting what plants to put in your garden, it is important to be picky. Many people inadvertently plant non native or even invasive species in their yards. While native plants can help to attract pollinators and other beneficial wildlife adapted to your local area, invasive plants can spread and choke out natives, altering ecosystems and leading to a loss of habitat and biodiversity for native animals and insects.

A butterfly resting on a flowering plant

A great spangled fritillary butterfly and bees visit wild bergamot planted in a meadow at Kellys Run Preserve in Holtwood, Pa., on July 25, 2020. The preserve is permanently protected by Lancaster Conservancy, which has turned an abandoned community park into mixed meadow habitat for pollinators and wildlife. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

The good news is that there are many resources available to people who are looking to make some swaps in their gardens. The Alliance’s Native Plant Center allows users to search plants by name, as well as sorting by a variety of filters, including region, plant type, moisture preferences and sunlight needs. Adding natives to your yard can also be a great stormwater management practice, as they can slow the flow of runoff across your property and even act as a natural filter. For more information on how to choose plants, as well as best practices for maintenance, visit the Stormwater Maintenance Resource Center.

Once you’ve identified the invasive plants in your yard, it is important to remove them in a safe and responsible manner. The list below outlines some general best practices to implement. However, it is recommended that you do some research of your own in order to tailor your approach to the specific plants you are attempting to remove. These resources from the University of Maryland Extension and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are good starting points and contain links to additional tools and information.

A group of people planting native grasses

Members of the Watershed Stewards Academy construct a rain garden in Severna Park, Md., on April 10, 2010. (Photo by Matt Rath/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Best Practices for Removing Invasives:

  • Identify the plants in your yard – if you don’t know what’s growing, you likely won’t have any idea whether it’s invasive or native
  • Use mechanical methods for removal whenever possible. These include mowing, weeding, pruning and smothering.
  • If chemical methods are necessary, be sure to follow directions about herbicide mixing and application and always wear PPE to prevent unnecessary and unwanted contact with chemicals.
  • Replace the gaps left by removal with native plants as soon as possible.

Identifying Common Invasive Plants (and what to swap them for!)

The list below is by no means all encompassing, but it is a good place to start when it comes to what might be hiding in plain sight in your yard.

Invasive: Multiflora Rose (Rosa Multiflora)
Identifying Characteristics: 3-6 feet tall as a shrub, but can reach 10 ft as a vine, small pinkish white flowers bloom in May, bright red fruits develop in the summer
Native Swap: Carolina Rose/Pasture Rose (Rosa Carolina), a 1-3 foot tall shrub that has pink blooms during summer months and attracts native birds and bumblebees

left, a wide shot of multiflora rose with white flowers. right, a close up of the purple flowers of pasture rose

Image Credits: Left (Multiflora Rose Plants and Flowers) – Photo by Rob Routledge, Sault College,, via UMD Extension, Right (pasture rose) –


Invasive: Japanese Barberry (Berberis Thunbergii)
Identifying Characteristics: 3-6 feet tall, paddle shaped leaves that change color from green to reddish purple throughout the year, pale yellow flowers that bloom in clusters in April and May, bright red berries
Native Swap: American Barberry (Berberis Canadensis), a thorny, 6 foot tall deciduous shrub with yellow flowers that bloom in May and reddish orange berries in August, can be distinguished from the Japanese variety due to its brown, red and purple bark (the Japanese variety is gray)

left, a wide shot of a Japanese barberry shrub. right, a close up of American barberry

Image Credits: Left (Japanese barberry) – Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,, via UMD Extension, Right (American barberry) – via NC State Extension


Invasive: English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
Identifying Characteristics: evergreen climbing vine, waxy, deep green leaves with white veins
Native Swap: Pipevine/Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia Macrophylla), a yellowish green vine with purple and yellow flowers, endangered in Maryland, provides habitat for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly

left, English ivy covering a section of ground. right, a close up of a pipevine plant

Image Credits: Left (English ivy) – Chris Evans, University of Illinois,, via UMD Extension, Right (pipevine) – R. Harrison Wiegand, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Heritage Service.


Invasive: Pale Yellow Iris (Iris Pseudacorus)
Identifying Characteristics: a 2-3 foot tall aquatic plant [keep an eye out for this one if you own waterfront property!] with flat, green, sword-like leaves, blooms in the late spring with 2-4 inch tall yellow flowers
Native Swap: Blue Flag (Iris Versicolor), a 3 foot tall aquatic plant with blue flowers in the late spring and early summer, tolerant of flooded roots and some salinity

left, yellow flag iris. right, blue flag iris

Image Credits: Left (pale yellow iris) – Nancy Loewenstein, Auburn University,, via, Right (blue flag iris) – Charles and Diane Peirce, Michigan Wildflowers, via U.S. Forest Service


Invasive: Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Identifying Characteristics: 5 feet tall, purple flowers clustered along its spikes from July to September, may grow as an individual stalk or several stalks in a clump
Native Swap: Gayfeather/Eastern Blazing Star/Devil’s Bite (Liatris Scariosa), a 1-3.5 foot tall plant with burst-shaped pink, purple and red flowers that bloom in August and September, attracts butterflies, honeybees and songbirds

left, a closeup of purple loosestrife flowers. right, a section of land with many Eastern blazing star plants

Image Credits: Left (purple loosestrife) –, Right (Eastern blazing star) – Keystone Wildflowers

A healthier (and more beautiful) Chesapeake Bay Watershed ecosystem can start right in your own backyard. Happy planting!

Visit our Native Plant Center

By Zoe Barbour, Green Infrastructure Projects Intern