Louisiana (particularly the southern end) is extremely diverse and is an extremely humid and stable landscape (comparatively). In general, these conditions do not spell out the kind of environment where just any kind of species could be considered invasive. (I take a lot of issues with the statement invasive, and people’s perceptions of these plants, but that’s perhaps another story) This means to me that any plant that appears to dominate an area as fertile and bio-diverse and Southern Louisiana
requires considerable study.
In South-Eastern Louisiana Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) is one of the most “invasive” species of foreign plants. Others are Chinese Tallow Tree (Triadica_sebifera) and Kudzu (Pueraria lobata). Chinese Privet is an edge species that grows along forest edges. It does not do well in shade and does everything in its power to avoid shade. If one looks at a creeping forest, privet will continually bend down and grow laterally to remain in the sun. When Chinese Privet encounters even the slightest of shade from an over-story tree, such as a pine tree or pin oak, it is just unable to survive and as a result, rots in place. Privet’s growth habit could be considered extremely ferocious, to the point that if its cut down, new shoots will emerge all along the exposed trunk (and even from its existing root structure). Chinese privet appears to continue to put out new shoots from its very shallow underground root system (that can usually be fairly easily pried up) so little ones are commonly popping up outside its current territory. This isn’t surprising given the amount of seed that the plant produces.
Putting my Permaculture hat on, makes me realize this “weed tree” is clearly filling a niche that is unfulfilled. There is no other plant that I know of in Louisiana that provides this dense level of shade on edges. There are plenty of other edge species such Winged Sumac (Rhus copallina) and Tung Tree (Vernicia fordii), but none that provides a dense shrub layer protecting the moisture and preventing wind from going inside a forest. I am beginning to believe that this plant would not even exist if Southern Louisiana would continue to evolve into what is clearly wants to be (a dense sub-tropical forest). This plant appears to be a means to those ends.
I generally attempt to keep as open of a mind as I can about any species, regardless of its habit, or notoriety. As to its positives, its quite clear that birds (particularly cardinals and blue jays) really enjoy its branches, and when flowering a hedge of Chinese privet is extremely enjoyable to look at it. I have not personally inspected the amount of pollinators on them, but I suspect they are quite the plant. I am also quite impressed by its ability to put out bio mass, and would appear that coppicing for a living mulch, seems like an extremely workable situation. What I am considering but have not explored yet is coppicing and using its small branches for rocket mass stoves. I suspect it does not have a great burn time or much BTUs, but if you have it… well you have it.
Here are some additional pictures of the plant
So Where To From Here:
Most people are attempting to eradicate this plant as quickly and as brutally as possible. My uncle (who calls it “Wild Hedge”) hates it with a passion. I recently attended the Folsom Native Plant Society meeting here in Bush, and there was no love for this “foreign invader”.
I am considering doing some studies on how to manage this plant, and how to possibly work it into a Permaculture system (so long as I have it on my forested edges). Thus far preliminary results are indicating that cutting it back and heavy mulching appears to do the trick (perhaps with a little post mulching maintenance when it attempts to put up new shoots). Effectively mulching creates that overhead shade that should kill it in place. I have scythed my yard and thrown all of the hay on top of a recently cut privet stump (that I unfortunately did not cut to the ground). Today while finishing up the job I originally done, I uncovered the grassy mulch to find that the plant attempted to put out dozens and dozens of new shoots, only a few of which actually penetrated through the mulch layer (easily pruned back).
Since I must clear the edge of about an acre of property, I will perform various specifically designed techniques to keep this plant at bay. I will attempt the mulching technique, except making sure to cut all the way to the roots. I will try mulching with its own branches, and I will try adding additional mulch materials (such as more hay) to see how either works. Once we get some of our food hedge plants in, I will also monitor how well a well designed thick food hedge/overstory can keep it back. Lastly I believe I will attempt to coppice plants again and again and again to provide a living mulch for plants I care about, and perhaps after many cuttings the plant will eventually die (having performed a service for more desired plants).
If you have any thoughts or experiences on Ligustrum sinense let me know.