What Is Common Privet?

Overview

Common privet (Ligustrum vulgare), sometimes called European privet, is a woody shrub traditionally used as a formal, sheared hedge plant. It has tapered oval leaves that are dark green and bears many pointed clusters of fragrant white flowers in early summer. The purplish-black fruits that follow in autumn are relished by songbirds for food, which scatter the seeds across the landscape in their droppings. This fast-growing shrub readily sprouts seedlings.

Description

Growing to be upright, somewhat rounded shrub with spreading branches, common privet has small oval to lance-like green leaves that are evergreen, deciduous where winters are severe. The leaves are held in pairs opposite each other on the branches. In early to midsummer the branch tips bear pointed clusters of tiny white flowers that emit a "skunky" or musky fragrance that are pollinated by bees. Following the blossoms, small oval fruits ripen to dark purple or black and persist on the branches well into winter. They are not edible, but songbirds eat them and scatter the seeds. At maturity, this large shrub can grow 12 to 15 feet tall and nearly as wide.

Nativity

Common privet is native to a wide expanse of southern and eastern Europe, also extending into adjacent parts of southwestern-most Asia and the coastal plains of northern Africa along the Mediterranean Sea. Here it grows in brightly lit woodland openings and in shrub thickets.

Growing Requirements

Plant common privet in any well-draining soil in a full sun exposure, a minimum of 8 hours of sun, to partial shade sites, such as under the dappled light under large trees. Soil should be moist for best growth.

Hardiness

Quite tolerant of winter cold, common privet endures the climate in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 through 8. In the warmer parts of Zone 4 the privet may endure if sited well, and its foliage will likely drop during the winter dormancy. This shrub grows best where summer is not long and oppressive.

Uses

Traditionally common privet was used extensively as a formal hedge, being clipped twice a year to create neatly shaped rows. Less formally pruned plants were regarded for use as privacy screens or in small hedgerows to make property lines. In Europe and Asia, where it is native, these uses continue. However, in the United States, the prolific production of fruits that are eaten and scattered by birds has led to weedy status for the common privet. Since the late 1990s, this fast-growing plant is rarely used in American gardens, and in many eastern states is officially listed as invasive or noxious.

Keywords: Ligustrum, evergreen shrubs, hedge plants, invasive plant

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for Learn2Grow.com's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.