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Arkansas is home to a number of weeds, which simply put, are just plants out of place.
These can be noxious or invasive. Keep a vigilent eye on fields and other areas weeds
are capable of growing in order to detect an invasive species as soon as possible.
It is important to be able to correctly identify these invasive species so that you
can properly control or eradicate the problem.
The simplest definition of a ‘weed’ is simply a ‘plant out of place’. Probably no
one would disagree that crabgrass or Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) are weeds. Many times though the determination of whether a plant is a weed or not
depends on your situation. As an example, our native Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) might be a wonderful ornamental plant in your yard, but for someone trying to maintain
grass pasture land, it is a weed. The Weed Science Society of America defines a weed
as: ‘a plant that causes economic losses or ecological damage, creates health problems
for humans or animals, or is undesirable where it is growing.’
Examples of weeds. Top: Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense); Bottom: crabgrass (Digitaria sp.)
Whether a plant is considered a weed may depend on the situation. Take for example
our native Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). It may be a useful plant in your landscape but a ‘weed’ in other circumstances.
‘Noxious’ weeds are plants that have been designated by Federal, state, or local governments
to be injurious to public health, agriculture, recreation, wildlife or property.
These are lists established by regulatory agencies. Once a weed is classified as noxious, authorities
can implement quarantines and take other actions to contain or destroy the weed and
limit its spread. Certain states (e.g. Oregon, Florida, Hawaii) have gone so far
as to establish a formal rating system to help them determine whether a plant is a
noxious weed or not. Criterion that Oregon uses include detrimental effects, reproductive
capacity, difficulty to control, distribution, and ecological impact.
Top: Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) and Bottom: morning glory (Ipomoea sp. ) are listed as ‘noxious’ weeds in Arkansas.
As is the case in many other states, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture maintains
a list of ‘noxious weeds’ (https://www.agriculture.arkansas.gov/plant-industries/seed-section/certification/noxious-weeds/ ). The Arkansas noxious weed list is composed primarily of weeds that pose a problem
in row crop agriculture. That may help explain why ‘bermudagrass’ is on the Arkansas
‘noxious’ weed list since bermudagrass is an important lawn turf species and is grown
as a high quality forage grass. Many plants listed on the Arkansas list are there
because of concern with contamination of agricultural seed lots.
Invasive plants are undeniably the focus of great discussion. The topic is full of
issues and perspectives and there are no easy answers. There is no disagreement that
invasive plants have economic impact in the U.S. One study reports the total damage
to the U.S. economy each year from reductions in crop yields and pasture forage caused
by non-native plants amounts to $27 billion.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order (13112) establishing the
National Invasive Species Council to prevent the introduction of invasive species
and provide for their control and to minimize the economic, ecological, and human
health impacts that invasive species cause. The Order was designed to set the foundation
and provide a framework from which this issue can be addressed at a national level.
The Executive Order defines an invasive plant as ‘an alien species whose introduction
does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.’
When discussing invasive weeds it is important to understand that labeling these plants
as such is more of a continuum rather than a one size fits all. For each invasive
weed we need to consider the aggressiveness of the plant and whether the plant distribution
is restricted or widespread. For example, in Arkansas, wild-type callery pear (Pyrus hybrid), kudzu (Pueraria lobata), and Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) could be labeled as ‘widespread and aggressive’.
Examples of invasive weeds that have widespread distribution across Arkansas and display
aggressive tendencies. Top: wild-type callery pear (Pyrus hybrid) ; Middle: kudzu vine (Pueraria montana var. lobata) ; Bottom: Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense)
On the other end of the spectrum is a group of plants that are restricted and less
aggressive in Arkansas. Examples include princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa) and greater periwinkle (Vinca major).
Left: princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa); Right: greater periwinkle (Vinca major)
When discussing invasive plants you must also keep in mind that we have to be careful
about lumping all types of one species under the same label. For example, the straight
species of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) has invaded some woodland areas in Arkansas and as such we should carefully consider
whether it should be planted for ornamental purposes or not. However, there are many
dwarf selections (e.g. ‘Atropurpurea Nana’; ‘Firepower’; ‘Harbour Dwarf’) used extensively
in landscape that do not flower (thus do not form fruit) that can contribute to the
unwanted spread of a plant. A similar statement can be made for ‘Sunshine’ Chinese
privet (Ligustrum sinense ‘Sunshine’) which does not flower or set seed.
Left: heavenly bamboo can be invasive; Right: ‘Firepower’ and many dwarf selections
are not invasive.
We also need to consider where a plant is, and is not, invasive. For example, butterfly
bush (Buddleia davidii) does not appear to be invasive in Arkansas but is highly invasive in the Pacific
Northwest. The cultivar ‘Asian Moon’ is a triploid hybrid selected by the late Dr.
Jon Lindstrom at the University of Arkansas can be used without worry of spreading
(sterile) in landscapes.
The triploid hybrid ‘Asian Moon’ butterfly bush released by the University of Arkansas
System is NOT considered invasive since the plant is sterile.
When considering what to plant in Arkansas landscapes we should carefully consider
whether the plant is invasive and whether better options (e.g. native) are available.
Acer saccharinum, Silver Maple
Ailanthus altissima, tree-of-heaven
Albizia julibrissin, Mimosa, Silk-tree
Firmiana simplex, Chinese parasol tree
Hedera helix, English Ivy
Ligustrum sinense (cultivar ‘Sunshine’ not invasive), Chinese privet
Lonicera japonica, Japanese honeysuckle
Lonicera maackii, Amur honeysuckle
Lonicera tatarica, Tatarian honeysuckle
Melia azedarach, Chinaberry
Nandina domestica (most dwarf cultivars not invasive), heavenly bamboo
Paulownia tomentosa, princess tree, empress tree, royal paulownia
Photinia serratifolia (f. Photinia serrulata), Chinese Photinia
Phyllostachys aurea, golden bamboo
Pyrus hybrid, wild-type callery pear
Rosa multiflora, multiflora rose
Triadica sebiferum (f. Sapium sebiferum), Chinese tallow tree, Popcorn tree
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Wisteria floribunda, Japanese wisteria
So if we should avoid planting callery pears because they are invasive, what alternatives
would we suggest? It is important to note that there is no perfect substitute for
callery pear but several options should be considered.
Amelanchier arborea,Downy Serviceberry, Juneberry
Cercis canadensis, Eastern redbud
Chionanthus retusus, Chinese fringetree
Chionanthus virginicus, White fringetree, Grancy Gray-beard
Cornus florida, Eastern flowering dogwood
Lagerstroemia sp., crapemyrtle
Magnolia stellata, star magnolia
Magnolia x soulangiana, saucer magnolia
Magnolia virginiana, sweetbay magnolia
Malus sp., crabapple
Vitex agnus-castus, Vitex
Acer buergerianum, trident maple
Acer griseum, paperbark maple
Acer truncatum, Shantung maple
Betula nigra, river birch
Carpinus caroliniana, American hornbeam
Metasequoia glyptostroboides, dawn redwood
Nyssa sylvatica, black gum, black tupelo
Ostrya virginiana, American hophornbeam, ironwood
Pistacia chinensis, Chinese pistache
Tilia cordata, littleleaf linden
Ulmus parvifolia, lacebark elm
Want to know more about weeds in row crops? Check out our ag weeds content.
Need help identifying weeds? Go to our Weed ID database.