“Invasive plants are species intentionally or accidentally introduced by human activity into a region in which they did not evolve and cause harm to natural resources, economic activity or humans. Invasive plants proliferate and displace native plant species, reduce wildlife habitat and alter natural processes. They also impose serious costs on our economy, which depends on benefits provided by nature. Economists have estimated that all invasive species - plants, animals and diseases - cause $120 billion in losses each year” (Pimentel, et al., 2005). Examples of these costs include degradation of vast areas of western rangelands, clogging of important waterways and increased effort to maintaining open power line rights-of-way.

In 1970, when I entered the wonderful world of Arboriculture, I had no idea about the impact of invasives on our ecosystems and the effects they have on our everyday lives. At the time, the main invasive I had experience with was the Elm bark beetle, the vector for Dutch Elm disease which was mainly responsible for wiping out the American Elm tree. 

The other was the Cattail (Typha latifoilia). As children we thought nothing of their invasiveness but only how cool they looked growing in the swamps and being used by birds for landing props. We also used them for torches during camp outs. Cattails grow tall, up to 10 feet, shading out native plants while producing massive amounts of leaf litter which acts as a mulch, further smothering and choking out native plants. Although considered an invasive, Cattail actually was a very useful resource throughout history. The cotton from Cattail was used as filling for pillows, chair cushions and even life jackets. Native Americans used the cotton from Cattails to line their moccasins and papoose boards.

The Commonwealth has many invasive species and according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, it costs about one billion annually for control efforts. This includes, but is not limited to cattails, kudzu, oriental bittersweet, and a relatively new one (Oplismenus undulatifolius) also known as Wavyleaf Grass, which can completely take over the understory areas of forests by growing dense carpets that choke out seedlings and other ground layer species. (Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation)

Another highly invasive plant in the Commonwealth, is Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata). Who would have thought that something so beautiful would be so destructive? Kudzu was brought to the US by the Japanese for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. It captured the interests of many American gardeners because of the wonderful smelling flowers and large leaves. Its use was encouraged for erosion control and fodder for cattle. Growing as much as a foot per day and up to 60 feet per year, it quickly encapsulates anything in its path. Forests can be decimated by the vigorous growth as the vines shade out the understory plants and even the trees themselves. As with many introduced invasive species, its natural predators did not come with it, which allowed it to thrive in its new environment.

After eighteen years of research, Dr. James H. Miller of the U.S. Forest Service in Auburn, Alabama has found that one herbicide actually makes Kudzu grow better and several have no effect. He recommends repeated applications of herbicide for at least four years, while some may require ten years of repeated applications. While herbicides do work, conclusive eradication can be achieved by the use of goats. They can keep the kudzu contained and eventually will deplete the food storage capability of the root system resulting in successful control.

Others who choose to make lemonade out of lemons use the resource to their advantage. Kudzu vines can be used to make baskets, to jelly from the blossoms, paper from the leaf fiber, and many other food dishes from the leaves.  Over its history, people have gotten creative with the vine, but one thing is for sure; it has proven to be a love it or hate it plant.

An invasive that often appears in wreaths is Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), not to be confused with Native bittersweet (Celastrus scandens, L). Oriental has yellow capsules around red fruit while American has orange capsules around red fruit. Spread by disposal of ornamental wreaths and birds, it grows like kudzu, encapsulating, girdling and shading out native plants and understory trees. The growth habit of Oriental Bittersweet is massive with vines up to 60 feet that are capable of pulling down trees and plants. Oriental Bittersweet can be controlled with frequent mowing along with herbicide treatment.

Although there are a number of other invasive plants that I could mention, a final species I would like to reference is Giant Salvinia (Salvinia molesta). Native to northern Argentina and southeastern Brazil, Giant Salvinia is a very vigorous aquatic plant commonly found in lakes and ponds. A single plant can multiply to cover 40 square miles of surface area in only three months – or the length of a typical Mid Atlantic summer - causing a total elimination of oxygen in the water which then kills off any life below the surface. It was discovered in a small pond in Shenandoah County Virginia in 2004 and was successfully eradicated, but bares mention so we remain vigilant in discovering a reoccurrence. To give you an idea of the enormous impact it can have on the environment and the fiscal budget, Louisiana spends nearly 9 million dollars a year spraying aquatic nuisance vegetation with three quarters of that used for Salvinia control. 

The first step in controlling an invasive species is awareness and vigilance in control methodology. If you encounter any of the plants mentioned above, and prior to attempting to eradicate the invasives on your own, you may first want to consider contacting your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.  


Kevin E Beal, Arborist/Landscape Supervisor Senior

Facilities Management, University of Virginia

Cell-434-531-7214;  Office-434-924-8904

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Ex-Officio seat Trees Virginia


Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (2017) Virginia Invasive Plants Early Detection Species.  

Pimentel, D., Zuniga, R., & Morrison, D. (2005). Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecological Economics, 52(3), 273 - 288. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2004.10.002 

Tree Stewards are trained community volunteers committed to promoting healthy urban and rural forests in Virginia.  Tree Stewards provide training classes, educational programs and project in their communities intended to increase public awareness of the value of trees while teaching about trees and tree care.  With classroom training and hands-on practice, Tree Stewards are equipped to identify trees, counsel on tree selection, demonstrate proper tree planting and follow-up care, and guide removal of invasive plants that threaten trees.  

The Trees Virginia Tree Steward Mini-Grant Program is intended to help Virginia's Tree Steward groups fulfill their urban forestry responsibilities to their communities.

This year the good news is that each of the five groups who applied for 2017-2018 received a mini grant.  Below are the groups and what the awards will be used for:  

Arlington/Alexandria Tree Stewards and the Lynchburg Tree Stewards each got a Nikon Forestry Pro Laser Rangefinder to aid in measuring Big Trees

Tree Fredericksburg Tree Stewards received funding towards a projector to use in their education programs

Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards received funding towards plants to rehabilitate a local park

Roanoke Tree Stewards received funding for tree care tools and supplies

Academic Scholarships

During this reporting period, Trees Virginia awarded $8,000 in Undergraduate and Graduate scholarships.   

Community College scholarship recipient

• Chrystal Hillary, Northern Virginia Community College, A. A. S. Horticulture (2017)

Undergraduate scholarship recipients

• Holly Waterman, Virginia Tech, B. L. A. Landscape Architecture (2017)

• Michael Webb, Virginia Tech B.S. Forestry, Urban Forestry Option (2016)

• Jillian Miller, Virginia Tech, Landscape Architecture (2016)

Graduate scholarship recipients

• Cody Kiefer, Virginia Tech, Ph. D. Urban Forestry (2017)

• Fran de la Mota, Virginia Tech, Ph. D. Urban Horticulture (2016) 

Trees Virginia Workshops

Trees Virginia held three workshops to provide education on urban forestry and tree care to hundreds of professionals, volunteers, and other community members.

• The Risky Business of Trees (March 2016, Roanoke, 137 attendees) 

• Reveling in the Magnificence of Trees (September 2016, Waynesboro, 250 attendees)

• Canopy Counts (March 2017, Roanoke, 110 attendees) 

Urban Forestry Roundtables

Trees Virginia held seven roundtables to promote understanding of specific urban forestry topics. 

Northern Virginia Urban Forestry Roundtables

• Building Better Urban Soils: Soil Amendments (February 2016, 75 attendees)

• Sustainable SITES Initiative: A New Tool for Urban Forestry? (May 2016, ~45 attendees)
• Forest Health Challenges: Locality Planning and Response (August 2016)

• Homeowners’ Associations: Strategies to Increase Tree Canopy (December 2016)

• Undergrounding Utilities When Preserving Trees – Above is Possible (February 2017, 49 attendees) 

Hampton Roads Urban Forestry Roundtables

• Creating Tree Trails to Promote Urban Forestry (October 2016, 20 attendees)

• How Much is Enough?  Achieving Urban Forestry Canopy Goals (June 2017, 33 attendees) 

Big Tree Interns

Trees Virginia supported the work of two interns for the Virginia Big Tree Program. 

The 2016 Virginia Big Tree Program Intern was Alexandria Cassell, a double major student in the Environmental Resources and Environmental Informatics programs at Virginia Tech.  Alexandria assisted the Big Tree Program coordinator in managing the Big Tree Register and recertifying trees throughout the state.  Alexandria worked with volunteers to recertify 136 trees on the current big tree list (all big trees need to be recertified every 10 years) and also managed the process of certifying 45 new tree nominations. 

David Formella (2017 Big Tree Intern) is a Natural Resources Conservation major in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech.  He is also a Marine option midshipman at VT, on track to commission into the United States Marine Corps as an officer in 2019.  As part of his Big Tree internship, he measured newly nominated trees and led efforts to re-measure the 195 big trees due for recertification. 

Tree Stewards
Trees Virginia supports Tree Stewards, volunteers providing education and tree care in their communities.  There are more than 475 Tree Steward volunteers in a dozen different groups across Virginia, and they have completed more than 13,000 hours of service to benefit urban forests.

Municipal Forestry Institute Scholarships

Trees Virginia also provided scholarships to professionals to attend the Society of Municipal Arborist’s Municipal Forestry Institute, covering the full cost of their registrations.  Past recipients include:

  • Nick Drunasky (of Fairfax County)
  • Alexander J. (A. J.) Elton (of Richmond)
  • Rachel Griesmar-Zakhar (of Fairfax)
  • Continued fundraising for the Bonnie Appleton Memorial Fund
  • Provided funds to communities to plant Arbor Day Trees, reimbursing up to $100 for the cost of a tree.  The 2016 Arbor Day Communities were the Town of Luray, City of Fairfax, Town of Vinton, Town of Ashland, Town of Buchanan, City of Waynesboro.  The 2017 Arbor Day Communities included the Town of Appomattox, Town of Abingdon, Town of Marion, City of Waynesboro, Friends of Reston, Town of Vinton, Town of Luray, and City of Lexington

In 2011, the City of Richmond and Capital Trees formed a public/private partnership and transformed a city gateway paved in  concrete  into an inviting green passageway that cools the urban core,  cleans the urban air, and reduces pollutants from the stormwater flowing into  the James River.

Capital Trees was born when four Richmond area garden clubs assembled a team in 2009 to study the environmental benefits of urban landscapes and identify areas in which the clubs could enhance Richmond’s urban environment. Noting the site’s barren landscape and steep slope toward the river, Capital Trees and city officials selected the 14th Street corridor as a pilot project for collaboration in 2010. The area is a center of local and state government, tourism and entertainment and serves as a primary route for pedestrians and vehicles.

14th Street During ProjectPhase I enhancements, from Main Street to Bank Street, were completed in the fall of 2011. Contractors hauled away tons of concrete from the median and the east and west passageways.  Dead and dying street trees were removed from inadequately sized tree wells. On the east side of the block, contractors installed bio-retention planters bound by root barrier walls to capture  stormwater runoff that previously flowed down the street and into the city’s combined sewer outfalls.  The tree planters now serve as detention and treatment facilities, removing phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment prior to release.   The west and median tree wells were expanded and Swamp White Oaks (Quercus bicolor) and Ginkgos  (Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry’) now line both sides of the street and the median,  forming a beautiful double allee. The bio-retention planters, filled with a mix of 85% sand, 10% soil and 5% leaf compost, are under-planted with native Blue Flag Iris (Iris versiclolor) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). 

14th Street BeforeIn the recently completed second phase, from Bank Street north to Broad Street, London Plane Trees (Platanus x acerifolia) were planted in expanded tree wells with  structured soils along the west side. A continuous planting of Ginkgoes has replaced the monolithic concrete median, visually tying the two blocks together. Low-impact development  storm water facilities, similar to the Phase I planters, run along the eastern curb line. 

Pedestrian lighting, improved sidewalks and educational signage completed the transformation of upper 14th Street. In addition to the tremendous aesthetic impact the plantings have had, the storm water facilities are providing much needed reduction in phosphorous loads (25-35%) and peak flow runoff (50%) to Richmond’s combined sewer outfalls. 

The success of the 14th Street project fostered a successful partnership between the city and Capital Trees, and has led to additional collaborations, including the renovation of Great Shiplock Park and the recently completed Low Line Gardens along the James River And Kanawha Canal and the Virginia Capital Trail in Shockoe Bottom. Capital Trees is now an independent 501(c)3 organization, with continuing support from the garden clubs, but also representation by leaders in Richmond’s civic, environmental, corporate, and creative communities. Capital Trees continues to work with city officials, local environmental groups, and corporate and private donors to envision, fund and implement projects that enhance the aesthetic and environmental health of Richmond.

Did You Know:

  • A birdhouse hung on a young tree branch, does not move up the tree as the tree grows.

  • Most trees do not have a tap root.

  • Trees are the largest living organisms on earth: some coastal redwoods are more than 360 feet tall.

  • In one day, one large tree can lift up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground and discharge it into the air.

  • Trees are some of the oldest living organisms on earth: some bristle-cone pines are thought to be more than 5000 years old.

  • One large tree can provide a supply of oxygen for two people.

  • Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and save 20-50 percent in heating energy.

  • A mature tree removes almost 70 times more pollution than a newly planted tree.

  • Every state has an official State Tree. Virginia adopted the flowering dogwood Cornaceae Cornus florida as the State Tree on February 24, 1956.  The dogwood is well distributed throughout the...

  • Most tree roots are in the top 12 inches of soil.

  • Well-maintained trees and shrubs can increase property value by up to 14%.

Contact Trees Virginia

(434) 295 6401

900 Natural Resources Drive, Ste 800
Charlottesville, VA 22903

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Upcoming Events

2018 Roanoke Tree Health Care Workshop
03-07-2018 8:00 am
Event Categories:  Workshops | Paid
March 15, 2018 NOVA Roundtable
03-15-2018 9:30 am
Category:  Roundtables

Our Partners

American Grove     Virginia Department of Forestry     Mid-Atlantic Chapter International Society of Arboriculture