Bad Plants

Gorgeous, But Heartbreaking. Plants, I Mean.

Scouting around for ways to delight and engage you, I stumbled on a blog entry at Gardening Gone Wild about one woman's love affair with an unfamiliar but very handsome tree. End result: Disaster.

Turns out the tree is one a friend of mine is jonesing for: Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia'.

golden locust

This ornamental selection of locust, 'Frisia', looks incredible and behaves well in the Pacific Northwest, but became a pest for an East Coast gardener. photo credit: Richie Steffen/Great Plant Picks hide caption

itoggle caption photo credit: Richie Steffen/Great Plant Picks

So this got me wondering about the gorgeous plants I've fallen for that I'd NEVER plant again.

My opening bid: A euphorbia named 'Portuguese Velvet', with the nicest euphorbiaceous foliage I've still ever seen.

Four years after ripping it out, I am still pulling out at least 100 seedings/season, AND, I'm now seeing runaways in gardens down the street.

pitcher plant

Seduced by beauty and lived to regret it? photo credit: green.thumbs/kristen hide caption

itoggle caption photo credit: green.thumbs/kristen



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your efforts are much loved, you and my sister are dog folks, not me!

Mea culpa on plants, vinka(sp?) Walking the forests in the NW you stumble up patches and nothing else, old homestead! Not uncommon. boyd

Sent by boyd peters | 4:14 PM | 9-11-2007

When I was growing up, we had a garden in our suburban backyard--complete with sunflowers, zuccini, snap peas, and tomatos. We also had fruit trees like plum, bing cherry, and loquats--but what we shouldn't have planted was a blackberry bush along the fence. For 10 years we fought that thing tooth and nail, and finally won only by selling the place to someone else--they were tasty though.

Sent by Jer Gallagher | 4:25 PM | 9-11-2007

Mint, mint, mint. Planted some in my veggie/herb garden, and have regretted it ever since. First, it tried to take over the garden, so I pulled it all up and planted a small piece OUTSIDE the garden, where it was bordered by a wooden planks about a foot deep (my garden) and the lawn (spread to your heart's content there, I thought -- it smells really good when it's mowed, by the way =). Well, it found it's way under the border, so I tried for 3 years just to pull what came into my garden. Finally, this year, I gave up, and pulled the whole thing out. The larger chunks I tried placing by our stream, hoping it would happily help retain the stream beds, and I could continue to have fresh mint when needed. While it looked like it would take, alas, it did not.....or did it?? Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised next spring....meanwhile, I've been finding new pices in my garden all summer!

Sent by Aleth Matrone | 6:48 PM | 9-11-2007

I'm going to go ahead and vote for sweet potato vine. It takes over quickly and I cannot for the life of me get it out of the ground. I pull tons of pink tubers up every year, thinking I must have them all, but new vines pop up every year. And it grows so fast that it's usually pretty huge before I realize that it's back...

Sent by Jesse | 7:20 PM | 9-11-2007

In Hawaii so many plants will take off and run wild, but pathos may be one of the more amazing examples. In more temperate climates, it's used in extensively as an indoor plant, in hanging baskets, etc. Well, if you plant it in the ground in Hawaii, it will be fine until it reaches a tree, then it will run up the tree and have leaves the size of Monstera (Sp?), i.e. platter sized, a foot or more across. Another strange sight is seeing Bouganvillea growing out of the tops of street signs and with their thorns, ouch! It just grows and grows, plant it in your yard, and you can be stuck with a tremendous wild thorny monster.

Sent by Anita Randall | 8:13 PM | 9-11-2007

Ditto on t he vinca, beautiful vine but it took over my small flower patch completely. My personal mea culpa: liriope spicata. I was pulling it out forever.

Sent by G Best | 8:35 PM | 9-11-2007

Blackberries, mint, and oregano. The oregano escaped from its planter up in my pool area. It smells very nice, but it's like swimming in an italian restaurant.

Sent by Lauren Uroff | 12:19 PM | 9-12-2007

Virtually plant can be a pest given the right circumstances. Sweet pea, if I'm not mistaken, can grow a root clear down to Hades. Try digging that out of a garden of perennials.

Sent by Michael Jefferson | 12:32 PM | 9-12-2007

Oh, wisteria, I do love thee, but you strangle my world.
Never again.

Sent by Ben Hoyt | 12:50 PM | 9-12-2007

The variegated ornamental Aegopodium (Umbelliferae) and the low-growing bamboo (Sasa pygmaea), both with vigorous creeping rhizomes, took over 3 years to remove. Regarding the bamboo, I overheard the neighbor's gardener telling his buddy, "You know, there's the strangest weed here..."!

Sent by James White | 12:58 PM | 9-12-2007

Oleander in zone 17 (California Bay Area)- we even put a garage on top of them, and they still grew under and around it! In the Pacific Northwest, zone 5, Bears Breech - even hit it with Roundup - still boing strong......

Sent by Nicole | 1:07 PM | 9-12-2007

Ah, so many plants behaving badly, so little space....
Bittersweet vine, found it in a rare plants of PA list, felt lucky to find one in the wild. I transplanted a start to a fence along a sidewalk. This vine grew so fast and aggressively that it pulled pickets off the fence and grabbed small children as they passed by. Trimming it back once a month was hardly enough. Dig it out? Ha! The smallest thread-like orange root would sprout in vengeance. It took about 4 years to defeat it.

Bamboo. Anyone with any sense knows better than to give in to it???s exotic appeal if they have less than several acres. This stuff will emerge yards away from the mother plant and can come up through asphalt.

Ajuga. Such a nice ground cover, such pretty blue flowers, so successful at colonizing your lawn forever.

Burning Bush. Be forewarned; they don???t all have beautiful fall color, but all of they will produce a zillion seeds that will sprout everywhere. They also can get rather large.

Sweet Fall Clematis. Beautiful vine, intertwines in any support or bush (eventually smothering it to death), gorgeous delicate white spray of flowers in August followed by those beautiful delicate seed clusters. Did I say seed clusters? All of them will blow around your neighborhood and germinate. Examine the interesting root, it is several times the diameter of the above ground vine and holds so tenaciously to the earth that you shouldn???t bother trying to pull it out, you will need a shovel. Persistent applications of strong weed killer will (sometimes) kill it.

Wisteria. Who can resist those exotic pendulant flowers. What flowers? I have had a Chinese Wisteria growing up the side of my barn for over a decade. It has NEVER flowered, but is happy to sprawl 40 feet up to the roof. Yes, it can reach underneath your siding and pry it off. Prune back several times a year. A favorite food for Japanese beetles.

Black Walnut. Some misguided souls actually plant this tree intentionally themselves, rather than allow God???s Chosen Walnut Cultivator, the gray squirrel, to sow BW seeds in all of your garden beds according to His Plan. Given time, you will be rewarded with a beautiful fall lawn covering of hardball sized walnuts that will stain anything they comes in contact with. This is usually long after the original planter of these trees has died with his dreams of beautiful, valuable lumber. Lumber? You have to wait about 80 years, during which time several 12 penny nails will have crawled up the trunk and embedded themselves deep in the heartwood. These nails will be found by the sawyer you talked into cutting up your log, who while examining his ruined saw blade is now wondering how you will look cut into slabs. During the wait for your trees to mature, you will have a very limited selection of decorative plants that will survive under the walnut tree to add something attractive to your yard since Black Walnut trees kill a huge variety of other ornamentals.

Added benefits of Black Walnut trees: Last to leaf out in the spring, first to drop their leaves, no fall color, unattractive odor.

Oh, there are others, but I must move on to other things???..

Sent by Bill Flather | 1:39 PM | 9-12-2007

Wow, Bill. Didn't happen to push a button, did I? ;-}

Now let's get serious about bamboo. One must differentiate between RUNNING and CLUMPING. The clumpers are sublime, and not all runners are evil.

HOWEVER, that variegated Aegopodium, aka Bishop's Weed, is manna from HELL. I once had a client who had me SIFT through her entire backyard to get out every root.
It is pure evil.

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 1:58 PM | 9-12-2007

I worked at a university greenhouse when I was in school. The manager there was given a small pot of what the donor called 'lizard's tail'. My boss assumed this was our native marsh-lover Saururus cernuus and planted it in a suitable location nearby. Years later, I came along, got excited that we had this amazing plot of lizard's tail, and started propagating it to spread about the area's waterways and other mucky spots. Luckily, before I made a huge mistake, I read a description of Saururus cernuus that didn't quite match up to the plant I knew so well by this point (Saururus has no petals? But this plant has petals? Hmmm...). Keyed the greenhouse specimen out to Lysimachia clethroides-Gooseneck Loosestrife. Aghhh!! I nearly unleashed a noxious exotic weed on strembanks all over. A bit of research goes a long, long way.

Sent by Janie Becker | 2:09 PM | 9-12-2007

Chinese lanterns. So sorry I took a clump of this perennial from a friend and planted it on the south side of my house. Five years later, I am still trying to get rid of it. Spreading roots spreading roots...they haunt my dreams...

Sent by Carol | 3:35 PM | 9-12-2007

Don't plant horseradish unless you want lots and lots of horseradish. A pinch will usually do, but with one big healthy plant, you and everyone you know can eat horseradish for YEARS. Your sinuses will clear from the strong amazing scent every time your shovel hits a wandering root. And you have to process those potato sized roots- I ruined my blender, unless you like horseradish flavored pina coladas. Better to pay a buck for a small jar that will last you until next Christmas.

Sent by Margie | 5:31 PM | 9-12-2007

Nobody's mentioned honeysuckle. Birds spread it everywhere, crowding out native plants. Happily, it does burn.

And don't forget Garlic Mustard, which some well-intentioned idiot brought to this country and which is now carpeting out woodlands and crowding out not just the woodland wildflowers but even the morels.

Sent by Ann | 5:34 PM | 9-12-2007

Speaking of horseradish, which for some of us is synonymous with gefile fish...


May all your horseradish be variegated (very pretty, not invasive) and your gardens bursting with joy.

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 5:44 PM | 9-12-2007

Junipers. Die monster die!

Sent by Chainsaw John | 5:56 PM | 9-12-2007

No one has mentioned the lovely smelling Lily of the Valley which has decimated every flower I have had in my little yard. Every inch of root can repropagate, send off shoots, intertwine, and grow together so tightly packed that a shovel can hardly get through. Ditto on the vinca. I am ready to let my garden go back to God's way, I am so tired of it.

Sent by Sandy Hansen | 6:43 AM | 9-13-2007

Words of wisdom about the bamboo Ketzel. My problem is 'Bleeding Heart' vine. Deep root system and comes up everywhere and tries to take over my bromeliad garden. It can be a painful extrication!

Sent by Tery | 7:18 AM | 9-13-2007

It was a gift, a ???hand-me-down??? passed among friends and neighbors. What a beautiful dark green sword-shaped leaf. It had clusters of ever-blooming, delicate periwinkle-blue flowers. It needed no water; perfect for north central Florida's arid, sandy soils. I planted it in my butterfly garden about 8 years ago and within a year it had spread enough to break apart and share. It flowered through the cold only quitting for a hard freeze and was quick to return with warm weather. Now it is EVERYWHERE; growing in thick dense mats of brittle tubular root knots. I pulled it all up this spring, thick clods of knotted roots spreading throughout my garden like a dense underground web. I laid down a weed barrier and four months latter it is back, poking its way through the weed cloth and mulched mounds of leaves, winking its blue gaze at me. The Mexican petunia is now listed as a class 1 invasive in Florida. Next time a friend offers you cutting, research it carefully before letting it near your soil.

Sent by Jojo | 8:02 AM | 9-13-2007

It is amazing to read of the plants that are invasive - here they wouldn't survive a winter! So I can long happily for wisteria vines without ever having to deal with them.

My mistakes have been Chinese Lanterns, Obedience Plant and the ever-invasive Bishop's Goutweed. Once that gets established, you can spend years trying to get rid of it.

Sent by kate | 10:04 AM | 9-13-2007

Did anyone mention liriope? Here in Georgia, people call it "monkey grass" or "border grass." Sure, it's a great groundcover and edging, but it spreads by stolons, and NOTHING will kill it short of industrial-strength herbicides (not even Roundup).

The well-meaning lady who previously owned my home planted around the *borders* of beds, thinking it would stay there nicely and neatly. Thirty years later, it has completely colonized my anicent, heirloom azaleas. No way to get it out without killing the I just leave it there, sigh, and lament its ugliness.

Sent by Rachael Williams | 2:24 PM | 9-13-2007

Morning Glory.
I once planted some seeds thinking how nice they would look along the garden fence.
Now more than 30 years later I still pull their strangling vines out of my english ivy & my magniicant Wisteria; that I train to cover my ugly chain link fence. I pull them out multiple times a season (twice a week?) trying to prevent blooms and more morning glory seeds. It is never ending.

Sent by Russ | 2:34 PM | 9-13-2007

Every time I see Virginia creeper I cringe. It will find it's way into every bed in your yard...eventually. Yes it's beautiful in the fall but that's what many Acer, Quercus, Fraxinus and Malus species are for. Also, English Ivy. It's quaint, until it turns your whole house into a chia-pet! The remains of both of these vines can be seen on building facades long after they have been removed. Don't be tempted!

Sent by Nathan | 2:54 PM | 9-13-2007

LYSIMACHIA CILIATA, in my case ATROPURPUREA (Firecracker). And gooseneck loosestrife and creeping jenny are also lysimachias. Sunset Western garden book says about lysimachia "most are vigourous perennials capable of spreading beyond their alloted space...police them to be sure they don't invade choicer plants". No billyclub of any sort has worked yet in my Portland garden.

Sent by shari | 3:44 PM | 9-13-2007

Brazilian Verbena (verbena bonariensis) even here is zone 6b it's a runner.

Randy Kessinger

Sent by Randy Kessinger | 3:46 PM | 9-13-2007

Cat's claw vine in Tucson. It never's like kudzu, once established. You can just about watch it grow. We inherited some when we moved into an older house, and it very much wants to overtake our neighbors' wall. The neighbor is NOT happy about this, and WE didn't plant the darned it's a bane to us all. I'm not sure we could remove all the roots without a backhoe, and even then I'm afraid it would crack their wall. Sure, the yellow flowers are pretty, and it's a fast-growing privacy cover on ugly fences, but it's a nightmare to get rid of, once established.

Sent by laura | 4:03 PM | 9-13-2007

My downfall is Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia). I was seduced by Dirr's description and went to my favorite they-have-everthing nursery (Planters Palette). Lo, they had a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l speciman that was even peeling!! Over 200USD (gasp) later, I was the proud owner of a stunning small tree. I had the perfect spot in my yard, Stewartia can be finicky. October rolled around, the tree had buds!! Jan, Feb & March looked good. By June & July, I was on my last wisps of hope (it will leaf out, it's just late...). By August I knew that it was dead. sigh

Sent by PlantLust | 4:42 PM | 9-13-2007

Clearly some plants are prized in some areas and a bane elsewhere; it would be helpful if we knew where all the comments are from.

Sent by Tricia Reeves | 5:28 PM | 9-13-2007

Mombretia (AKA Crocosmia) - beautiful little clusters of deep orange flowers reminiscent of Freesia without the scent. Here in southeast Texas these little bulbs are like the Thing that Wouldn't Die! My husband brought a few bulbs home (he's a bulb rustler) and no matter how deep I plant them, they still lean over and blanket my sidewalk. I dig up hundres of the tiny bulbs each year - they've crowded out my day lillies, even my Mexican Heather, EVERYTHING, even Lantana. I give them away, throw them away, and they multiply like bunnies on a bender.

Sent by Luanne Novak | 5:33 PM | 9-13-2007

Ditto on liriope (lilly turf), planted by me in the hopes of a nice ground cover for a shady patch. But it turned into a not-so-nice ground cover and has been so far impossible to eradicate.

I would also nominate sweet autumn clematis. Described in one catalog I saw as a "rampant grower" (true!), it spreads widely if you don't cut it down right after it flowers. It gets into and chokes the hedges. I spend much of my summer weekends pulling out stray vines.

Sent by John | 8:36 PM | 9-13-2007

Spiderwort. Idaho. Love the blooms, hate the spread. They come up everywhere and keep coming back for more!

Sent by Deb | 5:55 PM | 9-18-2007

Rochester NY - zone 5 - Has anyone nominated the lovely, delicate, betcha-can't-say-it-3-times-fast Goosenecked Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides)with its wirey,reddish-pink runners poking up all over? Yikes!

Sent by Jenifer | 12:44 PM | 9-20-2007

Nobody has mentioned "Chameleon plant", (Houttuynia cordata). It's a pretty little vine that will lure you in with its variegated green, white and pinky leaves. Then it will take over every square inch of your garden and you'll have to move! I won't be taken in again (at least it won't be planted in the ground). I also put in my votes for trumpet creeper, English ivy, mint (say it with you teeth gritted), oregano, lemon balm (oh, the babies everywhere!), lily of the valley, obedient plant...gosh, I sound like a failed gardener.

Sent by Elizabeth | 4:37 PM | 9-20-2007

Passion Vine (also known as Maypop). Absolutely gorgeous bloom. It will traverse the yard and even grow up through the deck. The roots crawl under the fence to the neighbors. I'm in Gulf Coast area of Texas. It can be easiy and repeatedly pulled up. I cut it back in Dec.and by mid-May it's up and blooming again.

Sent by Mel Babb | 10:34 AM | 9-21-2007

One word: Aloe.

Not the usual type growing in pots in your kitchen, at the ready in event of burns. No, the spikey, prickley type (which apparently is also medicinally useful). It's pretty alright, especially when it blooms with its lovely salmon-colored blossoms. And such delightful seed pods it creates, with lovely little black seed disks! I took pity when a neighbor pulled up a huge quantity and dumped it at the edge of his property. But, I was a transplant from the Midwest, and didn't know the true (read: evil) nature of this plant. Into the clay/caliche beds around our pool it went -- and within a year, it was absolutely everywhere, outgrowing the rock edges of the beds, sending colonies under the orange tree and other unexpected places. Finally I pulled it out, but to this day, new sprouts still pop up when I least expect them.

Sent by Another Tucsonan | 12:40 PM | 9-22-2007

Pampas grass is a pain in A leftover from a previous owner,it came up in the middle of a shrub.I couldn't get rid of it so I settle for a forsythia bush with a big feathery plume growing out of its middle. Leave the pampas in Argentina!

Sent by Merry Lewis from Birmingham,AL | 2:17 PM | 9-22-2007

I recall my grandmother complaining about 'Bird of Paradise' (beloved by florists) taking over side yard of her house in Hawaii. Here in Birmingham, AL, we had two rose bushes (they're not supposed to grow well here) in the postage-stamp sized "back-yard" of our townhouse. They had been planted by the previous owner and had taken over the space, completely shading the livingroom window. The yard was in a low wet spot with terrible red clay soil and poor light - conditions which supposedly kill roses. The rather sickly-looking one in front of the window I cut back to the ground one year in the hopes that it would just DIE! It not only came back, but its root stock sent shoots into the neighbor's yard, up through our patio, and across to the other rose bush! Now there are three bushes - one deep pink, one light pink tea, and one red pasture rose. I gave up, tied them to trellises, and then we moved.

Sent by Amy in B'ham | 12:28 PM | 9-24-2007

I feel your pain and am astonished that nobody mentioned the blue flowered "Four O'Clocks", which bloom in late afternoon. (Around 4:00,) I inherited these in Tallahassee, FL from a previous owner. They grow from tubers that voraciously know the meaning of prolification. I finally gave up & moved away.

Sent by fla gardener | 5:53 PM | 9-30-2007

I garden in Western Oregon. I will never plant sweet woodruff, lily-of-the-valley, or comfrey again, especially comfrey.

Sent by sarah | 4:20 PM | 2-19-2008

Southern California coastal - Never again plants - oh, the ones! Mexican Evening Primrose (oenothera speciosa), planted because I read in a book that it looks nice with roses. It spreads and comes up everywhere, over and over again. Sylvetta the Italian wild variety of arugula - do not let it flower or go to seed - it is now popping up everywhere! I do love arugula and sylvetta, but one can only graze so much. Yarrow - roots spread like a mat. And some folks here learn the hard way not to plant violets.

Sent by Carolyn | 3:37 AM | 3-12-2008

Everywhere I've lived for the last 15 years - Cyprus, Rawalpindi,Southern Italy, Syria - JALAPA! and also some kind of tall yellow cosmidium; and a brown French marigold which I went to the trouble of collecting seed seed from off a roundabout in Nicosia. These three are now all over all four locations, and not even drought seems to prevent seedlings from coming up in hundreds each spring.

Sent by A Salmon | 3:25 PM | 3-30-2008

Southern NY State - Hyssop! I call it the Sorcerer's Apprentice plant. I planted seeds in a not-yet-filled-in landscaped area & it invaded, jumping over sidewalks like a brush fire.

Sent by Cynthia | 12:25 PM | 3-31-2008