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Species at a Glance
Common privet, also called European privet, belongs to the olive family and was introduced from Europe and Asia in the early to mid-1800s as a traditional southern ornamental. It is a semi-evergreen, thicket-forming shrub that grows upright to a height and width of 3.7-4.6 m (12-15 ft), and often has multiple trunks with long leafy branches.
Leaves: Opposite in two rows at or near right angles to the stem. Oval to elliptical in shape and rounded at the tip (often with little indentations); 2-4 cm (0.8-1.8 in) long and 1-3 cm (0.4-1.2 in) wide. Upper sides of the leaves are a lustrous green, while undersides are pale green with a hairy mid-vein beneath.
Flowers: Small white flowers grow in clusters at the end of the stems and bloom from June to July.
Fruits/Seeds: Small, shiny, blue-black berries occur in clusters at the end of the stem and mature from September to October.
Stems/Roots: Slender twigs are straight, rounded, or four-angled below the nodes and increase upward, with color ranging from brownish gray to gray-green. Privet bark is whitish tan to gray in color and smooth in texture, and young branches have tiny hairs.
It is difficult to distinguish between the various privet species, including Chinese (L. sinense) and Japanese
(L. japonicum) privets. Common privet also has leaves similar to the native shrub coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), but the coralberry has very slender twigs, deciduous leaves, and red berries produced in axillary clusters, and lacks a terminal bud.
Common privet is often seen along roadsides, bottomland forests, fencerows, forest fields, and other areas with disturbed soil. It grows well in full sunlight and low nutrient soils, but will tolerate lower light levels if nutrients are increased.
Common privet easily escapes cultivation to invade adjacent areas, reproducing both vegetatively and by seed.
Seeds are dispersed by birds and other wildlife that eat the fruits and excrete the seeds undamaged into new areas.
Common privet is native to Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. Current range maps show its distribution in several U.S. states, with a wide distribution throughout Pennsylvania.
Note: Distribution data for this species may have changed since the publication of the Pennsylvania's Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (Second Edition 2015), the source of information for this description.
Common privet is aggressive and troublesome. It spreads rapidly to form dense thickets that can easily out-compete native plant species.
Information for this species profile comes from Pennsylvania's Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (Second Edition 2015).