Invasives Prime Time: Privet hedge

Earlier this summer I followed Donna Ormiston through a privet forest near the Brown County public library. Privet towered over us and nothing grew underneath. That mini-trek led me to choose privet for this month’s article.

Ten years ago, Donna and a team of volunteers began to rescue the woodland on the eastern side of the library from a myriad of invasive species. The idea is that the woodland may return to a natural state where native plant species thrive. Donna, chief caretaker of the ravine, does her best to keep the area free of invasive species. Now I know the source of the little privet shrubs that continue to appear there - that neighborhood privet forest.

I think of the words privet and hedge as synonymous. Privet is hedge; hedge is privet. That’s how the plant got to North America originally, brought here as a hedge, something I might have considered planting to separate my property from my neighbor’s. It can make a natural green screen, kept clipped and boxy like the one I grew up with in Indianapolis. A serious problem arises when the hedge is neglected and assumes its natural look with branches that fan up and out, flower and produce seedy fruits. (This may even occur, though to a lesser degree, when kept clipped.) Birds eat the seeds and excrete them hither and yon.

Privet or Ligustrum obtusifolium, also known as border privet or blunt-leaved privet, is one of Brown County’s myriad invasive plant species. Remembering that a non-native invasive plant species can radically change a habitat that occurs naturally, privet is one that the Brown County Native Woodland Project hopes will be eliminated. The best way to do this is to be watchful, to learn to recognize it when it’s small and to hand pull or dig it out and allow to die. This method is true of any of the species considered to be invasive. Larger plants can be controlled in ways described elsewhere.

How can you best recognize privet? Check the leaf, always a good way to begin the identification process. Privet leaves are smooth-edged, round-tipped, 1-2 inches long and grow opposite, not alternately, along the stem. Creamy to white, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom late spring and produce very small fruits, blue-black when ripe. If you have good internet access, go to the Brown County Native Woodland Project’s website, bcnwp.org, click on shrubs and then border privet. Wikipedia and Google Images are additional helpful sources.

As many of you are aware, I do free invasive plant surveys for landowners as part of Brown County Native Woodlands Project’s educational outreach. I’ve done over 70 surveys; several have been for readers of these periodic articles. Thanks to all of you who want to learn more so that we can prevent our forests from being overrun by harmful plants. I’m increasingly impressed by how many in our county are on board and have begun to tackle the problem. If you’re interested, contact me at rai38@sbcglobal.net or 317-253-3863.

Coming up in September is Nature Daze, the sixth sponsored by the Native Woodlands Project. After five years hosted by Bill and Becky Freeman at their place, this year’s will be at Camp Rancho Framasa, thanks to camp director Kevin Sullivan. The Saturday, September 8 event which focuses on best land stewardship practices will include presentations and demonstrations by several of our state’s most knowledgable experts. A myriad of nature-related activities will keep children active and happy. Everything is included, even a free lunch that for the first time will feature pulled pork sandwiches prepared by Gnaw Mart. This event is free but please register by clicking the Registration button at the top of this page so that we can better plan for activities and lunch.

Ruth Ann Ingraham
Chair
Brown County Native Woodlands Project, Inc.