Invasive plant or aggressive? There is a difference

mint by Stofko
Mint can get out of control, but it’s aggressive, not invasive. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

What is the difference between an invasive plant and an aggressive plant?

Sometimes gardeners use the terms interchangeably, but aggressive and invasive aren’t the same thing.

Aggressive plant

An aggressive plant is one that spreads faster than preferred, or into an area of your garden where it is unwanted, according to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

But what one gardener views as an aggressive plant might not be viewed that way by another gardener. As the Chicago Botanic Garden points out, a plant may be aggressive in one area of a garden or neighborhood and well behaved in another.

One year I was at a plant exchange and a gardener pointed out one of the offerings called sweet woodruff, which is a groundcover for shady areas. “I wouldn’t plant that,” she said. “It’s too aggressive.”

I was surprised by her remark because I had gotten that plant the previous year and it didn’t come back.

There are a couple of things that do spread aggressively in my yard: mint and lily of the valley. I am sure there are many other gardeners who feel the same way I do, but there may be other gardeners who are delighted with those plants because they fill in a trouble spot in their yard.

If you don’t want aggressive plants to spread into your lawn or other parts of your garden, grow them in pots to keep them contained. You can even sink the pot into your garden bed if that is the look you want. Roots might spread out through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, but the pot will definitely slow down the spread and make those aggressive plants more manageable.

Invasive plant

lesser celandine in Amherst NY
Lesser celandine is a pretty little plant, but it can destroy your lawn and invade wild spaces. This is on the list of invasive plants compiled by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

An invasive plant, according the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, is a species that is nonnative to a particular ecosystem, and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

See DEC’s list of invasive plants here.

An invasive species that can harm humans is giant hogweed, which can cause severe burns to your skin. Lesser celandine can not only take over your lawn, it can disrupt the ecosystem in natural areas.

If a plant is on the DEC’s list of invasive plants, it is invasive. If it’s not on the list, it’s not an invasive plant in New York State.

9 Comments on “Invasive plant or aggressive? There is a difference

  1. My backyard flower bed is overrun with purple dead nettle. Why it established itself in my garden this year is a mystery to me! Fortunately, from what I have read, it is neither aggressive nor invasive. However, I did learn that it is edible!

  2. Hello,

    How do you get rid of lesser celandine … it is starting to creep into my lawn. Thank you

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