Substitutes for Invasive Garden Plants: October 2017 Plant of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

In September 2017 the Ewing Green Team and the Ewing Environmental Commission published a brochure about twelve invasive plants which, unfortunately, are sold at nurseries and garden centers in our area. Some states and communities prohibit the sale of known invasive plants, but Ewing does not do this. We named the brochure Invasive Plants commercially available in New Jersey. It was distributed at the 2017 Ewing Community Fest along with another brochure, The Ecological Benefits of the Not-So Perfect Yard. We called the invasive plants “The Dirty Dozen”, citing the most commonly used invaders.

In the chart below we list good substitutes for these popular but invasive garden plants. The suggested plants are all hardy to our USDA Hardiness Zone and are native plants.

To clarify what the advantages are to using native plants, the information is available on this web site, dated March, 2017, “Native Plants”. More information, titled “More Bad News”, was the April, 2017 Plant of the Month. More information about the substitute plants, natives and invasives, is easily accessible on the Internet.

Be sure to visit for landscaping; www.MAIPC (The Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council), and We also recommend the book, Plant Invaders of Mid Atlantic Natural Areas by Swearingen, Reshetiloff, Slattery and Zwicker.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

                                       PLANT SUBSTITUTES FOR THE “DIRTY DOZEN”
Common Name Botanical Name Substitute  Common Name Substitute Botanical  Name
Autumn Olive Eleagnus umbellata Bayberry Myrica pensylvanica
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Highbush cranberry Viburnum trilobum
Bamboo (Running)      [ 1] Several species and genera Ilex opaca American Holly
Magnolia virginiana Sweetbay Magnolia
Ilex glabra Inkberry Holly
Ilex verticillata Winterberry Holly
Rhododendron maximum Rosebay Rhododendron
Juniperus virginiana Eastern Red Cedar
Bradford Pear    [2] Pyrus calleryana Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
American Snowbell Styrax americanus
Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus
Green Hawthorn Crataegus viridis
Winged Silverbell Halesia diptera
Dogwood * Cornus alternifolia, florida*, sericea
Burning Bush    [3] Euonymus alatus Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, arbutifolia
Highland Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum
Fragrant sumac Rhus aromatica
Burning Bush    [3] Euonymus alatus Summersweet Clethra alnifolia
Smooth Witherod Viburnum nudum
Butterfly Bush Buddleia davidii Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush
Clethra alnifolia Summersweet
Japanese Silver Grass Miscanthus sinensis Sorgastrum nutans Indian Grass
Andropogon gerardii Big Bluestem
English Ivy Hedera helix Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny Spurge
Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot
Gaultheria procumbens Creeping Wintergreen
Mahonia nervosa Longleaf Oregon Grape
Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii Fothergilla gardenii Dwarf Fothergilla
Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Itea virginica Sweetspire
Diervilla lonicera Bush-Honeysuckle
Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, arbutifolia
Japanese Honeysuckle Lonicera japonica Lonicera sempervirens Trumpet Honeysuckle
Clematis texensis Scarlet Clematis
Japanese Wisteria Wisteria floribunda, sinensis Wisteria frutescens American Wisteria
Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria Monarda didyma Bee Balm
Asclepias syriacus, incarnata Butterfly Weed, Milkweed
Coreopsis verticillata, grandiflora Tickseed
Echinacea tennesseensis Tennessee Coneflower
Eupatorium  dubium, hyssopifolium Joe Pye Weed
Liatris spicata, aspera Gayfeather, Blazing Star
Winter Creeper Euonymus fortunei Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnikinnick, Bearberry
Decumaria barbara Woodvamp
Vaccinium crassifolium Creeping Blueberry
1 See July POM, 2017 Running Bamboo
2 See March TOM, 2016 Callery Pear
3 See July POM  2016  Burning Bush
See also March POM 2017   Native Plants
April POM 2017   More Bad News
Cornus florida* Choose disease resistant variety

Running Bamboo – July 2017 Plant of the Month (NOT)

by Ann Farnham

In May of 2016 a bill (A3735) was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly to establish requirements for the sale and planting of running bamboo in response to the pleas of a frustrated new homeowner who, after purchasing her property, discovered running bamboo invading hers from a neighboring property (see Making Bamboo Taboo).

The bill specifically pinpointed the genus Phyllostachys and a species, arundinaria. However, Phyllostachys is not the only invasive running bamboo that grows in New Jersey. There are other running bamboo genera; Pleioblastus, Sasa, Arundinaria, and Semiarundinaria, grow here, and some grow as far North as Boston, primarily along the coastal regions. There are three native North American species and more than 700 species world wide, most native to China, Japan, and Asia Minor. Bamboos are not all tropical nor confined to lower elevations.

The common names “Heavenly Bamboo”, “Lucky Bamboo” and “Japanese Bamboo” are not bamboos but unrelated genera.

About Bamboo

Bamboo is a grass, but unlike most grasses we are familiar with, they have underground stems (rhizomes), from which new clumps (culms) arise. The rhizomes of running bamboos can range to 25 feet in length from a single culm in one single growing season and thus, before long, a significant number of plants emerge from them, sometimes intruding into unwelcome areas like neighbors’ lawns, driveways and flower beds. There are “clumping bamboo” genera which have rhizomes as well, but they do not have the invasive properties of the running bamboos.

Many bamboos, both clumpers and runners, make beautiful and graceful garden plants and thick privacy screens. They are usually low maintenance and care-free except for the rigid control that must be practiced to contain the runners’ rhizomes.  They are available in many sizes, colors and shapes, striped and solid. Some are among the fastest growing plants in the world:  up to 3’ in 24 hours, some to a height of 100 feet. Bamboos flower or set fruit infrequently; some species do so only after anywhere from 15 to 120 years, after which most die. Many are attractive in containers indoors, outdoors, or as bonsai.  Insect and disease pests are not very prevalent.

Economically, bamboos are very important throughout the world, not as garden and home plants, but as food, textiles, art objects, paper, tools, fishing poles, furniture, and building materials, among others. Ecologically, bamboo is a workhorse, sequestering carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen prodigiously, and providing unique wildlife food and shelter. It is a vital food for Pandas, whose populations have been seriously affected when groves die after flowering; likewise, animals which proliferate eating the seeds, die when the grove stops producing.

Clumping Bamboos

There are beautiful clumping bamboos, such as Fargesia (Pandas’ favorite) and other clumpers, which are cold hardy and disciplined. They can serve as privacy screens as well as accent plants and focal points. Clumping bamboos, contrary to running bamboos, do not require 2-3’ plastic, concrete or metal buried barriers, or surrounding ditches which require seasonal cleaning out of new rhizomes, or frequent 15-20’ wide perimeter mowing.

Running Bamboo Negatives

Running bamboos deplete surrounding soil of nutrients, which prohibits complementary planting or a wildlife friendly understory. They require a lot of real estate, none of which should approach neighbors, public land or highways because if not properly contained, the hardy plants spread aggressively and can cause damage to concrete sidewalks, home foundations, and other structures. Running bamboo is particularly problematic when it spreads from one property to another, and causes damage to the neighboring property.


There is much more to write about bamboos (physiology, restraint methods, maintenance, physical characteristics, distribution, propagation), as well as the many other species that have been categorized as invasive in NJ.  The Ewing Environmental Commission recommends that all homeowners learn more about the problem of invasive species, the damage that they cause in our ecosystem, and what you can do to halt their spread.   The New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team is an organization that is dedicated to that purpose.   For starters, take a look at their Do Not Plant List and then check out their Go Native Brochure for beautiful, native alternatives to plant in your home landscape.

Running Bamboo Legislative History

Bill (A3735), establishing requirements for sale and planting of running bamboo, was introduced in the NJ Assembly (217th Legislature) on May 19, 2016. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It moved to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.  On October 13, 2016 the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee reported favorably upon the bill.

An identical bill (A2301) was introduced in the NJ State Senate on June 6, 2016.  It was sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It was referred to Senate Environment and Energy Committee.  No action has been recorded since.

Tree of Heaven – September 2016 Plant of the Month (Not!)

Doug Goldman, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Doug Goldman, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima

“Heaven” in this case does not mean “Heavenly”. On the contrary, this tree is a serious pest; the word “Heaven” is derived from the South Moluccan name Ailanto, which means a tree reaching for the sky.

Ailanthus altissima is native to China, Taiwan, and North Korea. It was first introduced to Europe in the 1740’s and to a Philadelphia gardener in 1784. It has since spread greatly and is now naturalized throughout most of the U.S.A., Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, and Africa. In this country it can be found from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8A. This is reportedly the fastest growing tree in the United States, 3’ to 6’ per year, and it is difficult to control.

Why has it spread so successfully? When it was introduced to the U.S.A. it was used widely as a street tree, in spite of its very offensive odor (some compare it to cat urine, or worse), and it thrived because it required no care and people wanted the shade. It tolerates conditions almost impossible for other tress: very poor soils, a vast pH range, drought, and pollution such as sulfur dioxide, high salinity, low phosphorus, coal dust, cement dust, and ozone. In addition, it sends up new growth from cut trunks, resulting in countless, vigorous sprouts; new trees also come up from the underground stems (rhizomes) and the female tree is a prolific seed producer. The achene, the flat, reddish fruit 1 ½” long and ½” wide, is twisted, thin, and flat, containing one seed, and is very easily carried by wind as it spins. It germinates in cracked pavements, walls, disturbed sites, roadsides, and woodlots, crowding out all other vegetation. Underground pipes and sewer lines are frequently damaged by the trees’ roots. Ailanthus contains an allelopathic chemical which inhibits other plants’ growth, and the foliage is mildly toxic to foraging animals. Deer do not eat it, nor do birds and squirrels. The odor from both male and female trees often causes nausea and headaches in humans, and contact can cause skin rash. It is easy to understand why this plant is called “Arboreal riff-raff”. However, it was subject matter in the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and it is mentioned by William Faulkner in Sanctuary.

Tree of Heaven will live about 50 years. It can reach a height of 40 to 60’, normally spreading to a width 2/3 that size. It has an upright, spreading habit and casts abundant shade. The compound leaves, 8 to 24” long, are arranged alternately on a stem, with 13 to 25 stalked, finely fuzzy, oval leaflets. The new leaves are bronzish-purple and mature to a dark green in summer. They have no fall color. When crushed, the leaves smell like rubber. The bark is light colored grey, with longitudinal, lighter streaks. The female trees usually flower in mid June, with yellow-green flowers arranged in panicles on an 18” to 24” stalk. The female flowers are odorless, but the male flowers stink as mentioned above, a smell which attracts pollinators.

Diseases and pests are minimal and do not create lasting damage.

Eradication is a challenge. A young seed sprout can probably be pulled up, but more mature specimens require cutting, and the resultant sprouts then should be treated with Glyphosate (Roundup) or an equivalent. Salt and vinegar and other homemade concoctions will not do the trick. If this tree appears in your yard, get to work!

Ailanthus has been used for “impossible situations”, such as eroded areas in mine runoff, but it is nonetheless regarded as having no landscape value. Extracts from the tree have been used in folk medicine, primarily by the Chinese, to address baldness, dysentery, mental illness, inflammatory conditions, and malaria, among others. The leaves have been used to grow silkworms and the fine-grained satiny wood can be used for cabinetry, although the uneven trunk texture-from rapid growth- causes cracking during drying. Most people feel that its best use is for firewood.

Do not confuse Ailanthus altissima with Black Walnut, Staghorn Sumac, or Ash, which have similar leaves. We addressed Ash in a recent Plant of the Month article, and will be writing about Staghorn Sumac (a non- invasive native which also grows prolifically on roadsides) and Black Walnut soon.

To learn more about invasive plants, go to and

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Burning Bush – July 2016 Plant of the Month (NOT)

euonymousby Ann Farnham, LLA

Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus

No! Don’t plant this!

This very popular shrub, known also as Winged Euonymus, Winged Spindle, Wahoo, and Winged Spindle Tree, has been listed as invasive in 19 states, primarily in the Northeast, including New Jersey. It is banned in Massachusetts and New Hampshire but its destructive effects are present in most Eastern states where it has not been banned or declared invasive. Unfortunately, most garden centers and nurseries still offer it for sale.


Information| |Description = Euonymous Alatus in autumn colour |Source = self-made / |Date = created 3. Oct. 2002 |Author = Chris Barton/Gif absarnt

Introduced from Northeastern Asia and China in the late 1800s, it has thrived here because it is very easy to grow, has few pests, and adapts to a very wide variety of soil types, moisture or drought, sun and shade (and non-green thumbed gardeners). Its outstanding fall color, a brilliant red, is also responsible for its popularity as a hedge, a specimen plant, and many other landscaping uses.

While the flowers are ornamentally insignificant, the attractive seeds are prolific and very viable from this self-pollinating plant. Birds and other berry-eating animals disperse them widely, where they form great thickets in woodlands and uncultivated sites, out-competing most native plants.

The term “winged” is based on the fact that many of the stems have corky “wings”. The leaves, 1 to 3” long and up to 1 ¼” wide, are simple and arranged oppositely on the stem; they are bit downy underneath. The spring and summer leaf colors are medium to dark green. Burning Bush might grow to 15-20’ in height but the growth rate after a fast spring flush is slow. There are many varieties today; most of them are shorter and more compact. The shrub’s habit is mounded-rounded.

To control Burning Bush, pull, dig or cut it out. If the plant is very large, cut it down and treat the stump immediately with glyphosate or another chemical weed killer, being very careful to follow instructions on the label.

Readily available native alternatives to Burning Bush are Black Chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, Highbush Blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum, and Fragrant Sumac,  Rhus aromatica.

Burning Bush has been touted as a cure or aid for many medical conditions through the years. Buyer beware!

To learn more about invasive plants, go to and

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Japanese Knotweed – May 2016 Plant of the Month (Knot!)

Japanese Knotweed

PLANT of the MONTH (Knot ! ) Japanese Knotweed, Polygonum cuspidate


by Ann Farnham, LLA

It is unlikely that today you will find this plant for sale at your local nursery, but that was indeed the case for many years. Originally introduced from Japan to England around 1825 and then to the United States, it was found in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey in 1894. This plant was praised for its ornamental qualities, easy care, landscape screening potential, and erosion control. Today Japanese Knotweed thrives in 36 of our 48 States. It is extremely difficult to eradicate and its dense thickets exclude all other plants.

Japanese Knotweed along HighwayThis plant, also known as “Japanese Bamboo”, “Mexican Bamboo” and “Fleece Flower”, can be identified by its scale-covered hollow stems, smooth- edged pointed leaves, 4-6” long and 3-4” wide, arranged oppositely on the stems. It can reach 3 to 10’ high and blooms in August and September with white to creamy-white flower groups (panicles) 3 to 6” long. It prefers full sun and wet sites, but will tolerate dry soil, salt, shade, and high temperatures, especially in disturbed sites, road-sides, ditches and vacant lots. Deciduous and dioecious (the male and female flowers are not on the same plant), it is very susceptible to frost and turns brown, dying back immediately, becoming at the same time a dormant season fire hazard. Being a perennial plant, the roots and rhizomes (underground stems) remain very much alive.

Japanese Knotweed Sprouts

Japanese Knotweed is very difficult to control or to get rid of. If you find it in your garden or elsewhere, do not pull it out without learning more about it. Any small particle of root or stem left behind (and the rhizomes can extend 30’ beyond the plant) in a removal will sprout into a new plant which then forms a new thicket; the dense, thick colony suppresses all other plants.

Cutting, mowing, and digging stimulate new growth. Eradication requires, un- fortunately, the use of an herbicide, glyphosate (Roundup) or triclopyr as a foliar spray when the plant is fully and recently leafed out. Do not spray to the point where the herbicide drips off.  One of these products can also be applied to a stem cut about 2” above the soil surface, but within a half hour of its cutting, as the cut surface will heal over after a half hour. Extreme care must be taken not to use these herbicides if there is a wind, breeze, or rain, and the application must be very precisely applied. Check the recommended solution carefully.

Bag the dead or cut remnants of the plant and dispose of them carefully in the garbage where they will not sprout and start anew. Do not compost or add to a municipal waste site where the brush, leaves, and garden trash will be composted.

Several years ago a team of Ewing Environmental Commission members attempted to rid the Johnson Trolley Trail of Japanese Knotweed; the challenge continues to this day.

The medicinal qualities of Japanese Knotweed were and are today enumerated in detail to cure or lessen bone loss, cancer, tumors, fever, constipation, burns, cardiac problems, infections, and more. It is touted as a health supplement, “antioxidant” and “cardio protectant”. Too good to be true? Buyer beware!

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Ash Trees – the November 2015 Tree of the Month

ash_treeby Ann Farnham

Ash trees are ubiquitous in our town because they can grow almost anywhere; they may have been over-planted because of this robustness. They populate our yards, streets, golf courses, parks and woodlands. Exceptional as shade trees, they tolerate all kinds of conditions, and have beautiful fall foliage. These medium–to-fast growing trees range from Nova Scotia and Manitoba in the north and to North Florida and Texas in the south.

There are many species of Ash; our most common are White Ash (Fraxinus americana), and Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). These two species are challenging to differentiate but suffer the same problems shared with all the Ashes: many fungal diseases and insect predation. Importantly, the recently introduced Emerald Ash Borer is emerging as the most serious pest afflicting Ash trees today. The White Ash in its native habitat is primarily a forest tree while Green Ash is mainly a riparian species.

Both species have compound leaves (usually 5 to 7 leaflets per leaf) which measure 8-15” long, arranged opposite each other on a stem. They are dark green in summer and the fall foliage ranges from bright yellow to maroon and deep purple. The bark is grey to grey-brown and mature trees have a furrowed, narrowly ridged diamond shaped texture. The flowers, which appear before the leaves in spring, are inconspicuous. The fruit, known as samaras, are profuse, flat, and measure 1” to 2” long.

Ash wood is dense and white. It is used for baseball bats, furniture, tool handles, and flooring, among other things which require strength and resilience.


Debbie Miller, USDA Forest Service,

This fine and useful tree, however, seems doomed. The invasive Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is killing ash trees throughout the North America in huge numbers. Many municipalities are taking down trees preventatively and at this time many thousands of these trees have been preemptively cut down or died from the EAB, which seems impossible to eliminate. The EAB was first introduced in Michigan from Asia in 2002 and has now migrated to the east coast. It has been spreading in Pennsylvania for the last few years and last year was found in New Jersey.

Green_ash_killed_by_Emerald_Ash_BorerA recent survey, conducted by Rutgers’ Urban Forestry Program found more than 840 Ash trees growing on Ewing public land within 10’ from sidewalks and trails alone. It is predicted that the Ash tree loss in Ewing will be enormous.

For more information and details about this pest, please check out our Emerald Ash Borer page.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for Trees and other Topics from all Ewing residents. To email suggestions or questions email us at

To calculate the value that trees add to your property, go to

Invasives Report

Report on a Morning Searching for the Invasive Water Chestnut (Trapa Natans)

waterchestnutsJoe, Maddie and Daisy Mirabella were with Ann and Lee Farnham early on Saturday morning, June 27th when they went on their annual eradication expedition down Ewing’s Gold Creek and at the Katzenbach School, looking for water chestnuts to eliminate. Four years ago when they first started this effort, there were water chestnuts in the lake at Katzenbach, and there were some in Gold Run as it went from Katzenbach down to the Delaware along the south side of the NJM property, just north of the Trenton Country Club.

They were able to eliminate the water chestnuts they found four years ago by uprooting them completely and carrying them away, but they did such a good job that this year they saw none! Gold Run was clear as was the water at Katzenbach (helped by the collapse of the dam at its western end several years ago which drained the lake).

waterchestnutretrieversMaddie Mirabella, Joe’s aging New Jersey Water Chestnut Retriever (as we’ve dubbed her) is getting on in years, so she asked her new companion, Daisy (an obvious German Pointer mix), to join the group so she could start to instruct Daisy. As luck would have it there were no water chestnuts to be found, but they did retrieve 16 golf balls, one fewer than last year. Maddie always says that it’s good to have a Plan B, and retrieving golf balls is hers. They’ll be displayed at the next EEC meeting, along with the haul from last year (17). Do you suppose there would be any takers at a fundraising auction for the EEC now that there are 33, most in pretty good shape?

Joe will report on this outing at the next meeting on July 21 for those who would like to learn more. While Ann went to check on Katzenbach, Joe and Lee set off down the bed of Gold Run just below where it passes under the Canal (the water level was down from previous years but the footing was still dodgy as they went from rock to rock, also looking for the signs of Water Chestnuts. But they saw nothing even though they walked all the way down Gold Run until they got to the point where it runs into the Delaware River…..but there was no sign of water chestnuts.  A successful outing from the human point of view; not so much for Maddie and Daisy!