A boy sniffs aromatic invasive garlic mustard leaves during a bioblitz event.
Know your plants A boy sniffs aromatic invasive garlic mustard leaves during a bioblitz event. © Devan King / TNC

Stories in Maryland/DC

Taking on Maryland's Invasive Species

Learn more about common invasive plants in the Potomac River watershed.

The Nature Conservancy actively works to prevent the spread of invasive plants on our preserves in Maryland through restoration and removal. You can help protect the lands you love by learning about some of the invasive plants commonly found in the Potomac River watershed.

Download a copy of the invasive plants brochure (pdf)

Download a copy of our recommended alternatives wallet card (pdf)

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What is an invasive plant?

Invasive plants are usually nonnative species that have been introduced intentionally or by accident and spread from human settings into natural areas with negative effects to our economy, environment or health.

Exotic wisteria plant and seed pod illustration
Exotic wisteria (Wisteria japonica, W. sinensis) This twining vine can strangle and overtop tall trees, carpet forest floors, and alter the structure of a forest. © Rachel Rogge

Free from the plant-eaters and parasites that keep them in check in their native ranges, they reproduce rapidly and spread aggressively, taking over natural areas and altering biological communities. Invasive plants have been referred to as a form of biological pollution.

Why should you be concerned?

Invasive species are one of the top threats to our natural heritage, along with habitat loss and degradation. Invasive plants can displace native species, eliminate food and habitat for wildlife, alter natural fire regimes and nutrient cycling in soils, and inhibit native plant regeneration.

In the U.S. alone, invasive species cost over $120 billion annually in damage and control, and the cost they inflict on our natural heritage is immeasurable.

Whether you are acting as a steward for your own property, a local park, or a far away natural area, invasive plants are likely to be a problem. In the face of such global threats to biodiversity as habitat destruction and climate change, we can each make a difference by preventing and controlling the spread of invasive species.

Learn how to identify invasive plants
Oriental bittersweet leaves and fruit illustration
Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) This twining vine can strangle and overtop tall trees, form dense thickets, and alter the structure of a forest. © Rachel Rogge

For a start, take a look at the illustrations below to learn how to identify 10 of the most prevalent and problematic invasive plants in our region and how to control them. You can also participate in plant walks, weed control workdays, and invasive species trainings offered by local groups.

Spread the word, not the weed

Seeds of invasive plants are well adapted to spreading and easily “hitchhike” to new environments. Weed seeds can be carried in soil trapped in shoe or tire treads, in the soil of transplanted plants, in hay or straw used to stop erosion or feed animals, or even on your pant legs. Please help prevent new invasions by cleaning soil from your shoes and the tires of vehicles that may be driven into natural areas.

Become an educated consumer

Don’t purchase or transplant invasive plants. Ask plant sellers before you buy, to be sure the plant you want is not invasive, and ask for alternatives if it is. Take the “Recommended Landscape Alternatives to Invasive Plants” wallet guide with you to your nurseries and show them some examples.

What you can do at home and in your parks
Multiflora rose flowers and fruit illustration
Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) This bush crowds out native vegetation, depletes soil nutrients, climbs trees, and displaces native plants that provide food and shelter. © Rachel Rogge

Learn about the plants on your property. Do you have invasive plants? Do the invasive plants overwhelm the native plants? Consider removing invasive plants from your yard and garden, and replace them with non-invasive and native plants in your landscaped areas.

Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once; remove and replace invasive plants as your time and budget allow. Every little bit helps.

Local groups and park managers host year-round volunteer work parties, so consider lending a few hours to help protect and restore your favorite parks and natural areas. Removing invasive plants is a healthy form of outdoor exercise suitable for all ages, and it’s rewarding work.

Other types of invasive organisms in the area

A variety of plants and animals has invaded our forests, fields and waters.

  • Invasive aquatic plants like water chestnut and giant salvinia choke our lakes and ponds, interfering with boating and other recreation.
  • Invasive animals like the snakehead fish and virile crayfish compete with and displace native species, harming the diversity and health of our rivers and streams.
  • Invasive insects like the emerald ash borer, Japanese beetle, and hemlock woolly adelgid kill millions of native trees each year.

Illustrations by Rachel Rogge