Chinese Privet (Sinense)

The Chinese Privet (Sinense) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is not native to the U.S. (United States) .

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Weed (very invasive in the southern US), ornamental

Noxiousness Chinese privet was introduced into the United States from China for ornamental planting. Having escaped from cultivation, it is now naturalized throughout the southeastern United States. The greatest threat posed by this species is large-scale ecosystem modification due to its ability to successfully compete with and

displace native vegetation. Chinese privet plants mature rapidly and are prolific seed producers. They also reproduce vegetatively by means of root suckers. Once established, Chinese privet is difficult to eradicate because of its reproductive capacity.

Impact/Vectors: Ligustrum sinense is native to China and was introduced into the United States in 1852 for use as an ornamental shrub. It is used for hedge and mass plantings, and sometimes as single specimens for its foliage and its profusion of small white flowers (Dirr 1990; Wyman 1973). It continues to be widely sold in the nursery and gardening industry. The foliage of Chinese privet is also used, presumably, for cut-flower arrangements. This horticultural introduction has been cultivated for a relatively long time in the United States. Wyman (1973) reports that this species is still growing as a hedge on the old Berkman’s Nursery grounds in Augusta, Georgia, where it was planted in the early 1860’s. It was planted on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park after it came under the control of the Secretary of War in 1890. Present day plants are descendants of those early plantings (Faulkner et al. 1989). According to Small (1933), the species was escaping from cultivation in southern Louisiana by the 1930’s. A survey of appropriate herbaria reveals collection records from Georgia as early as 1900. Based on herbarium records the species has become naturalized and widespread in the southeast and eastern U.S. during the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Taylor et al. (1996) notes the rapid, recent spread of Ligustrum sinense in Oklahoma.

The species is a major threat to natural landscapes. An example of Chinese privet’s ability to push a native species closer to extinction is noted in the recovery plan for Schweintz’s sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii). This endangered species is known from about 16 populations on the piedmont of the Carolinas. Residential and commercial development and the invasion of aggressive exotics, such as Ligustrum sinense, represent the greatest threats for this species (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1992). Similar observations about the competitive characteristics of Chinese privet have been noted in various Nature Conservancy reports in the Southeast. Removal of Chinese privet from natural areas is problematic and essential for their restoration (News from Volunteers of the Nature Conservancy, North Carolina Chapter and the Louisiana Chapter, pers. comm. 1997).

In addition to the privet’s impact on natural landscapes, it can be directly harmful to humans. All introduced species of Ligustrum produce fruit toxic to humans that cause such symptoms as nausea, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and low blood pressure and body temperature. Where Chinese privet occurs in abundance, floral odors may cause respiratory irritation (Westbrooks & Preacher 1986). Chinese privet is sold in nurseries and is often included on recommended planting lists or other literature produced by cooperative extension services without mention of its invasive nature. Named cultivar selections have been developed (Bailey and Bailey 1976).

Chinese privet grows in a wide variety of habitats and can tolerate a wide range of soil and light conditions, but it grows best in mesic soils and abundant sunlight but can tolerate lower light conditions (Thomas 1980; Bailey & Bailey 1976). Few woody plants offer an easier test of gardeners’ skills.

The species persists on abandoned home sites and can readily invade abandoned lots and farmlands where

General Characteristics

General: Olive Family (Oleaceae). Chinese privet is a shrub or small tree that may grow to as much as 30 feet tall although its typical height ranges from 5 to 12 feet. If flowering, its blossoms are very aromatic. Its root system is shallow but extensive. Suckers are readily produced and the plants can spread vegetatively in this fashion. The plants branch abundantly and the branches typically arch gently downward. Its twigs are usually densely hairy (pubescent) when young, and the plant hairs (trichomes) spread at right angles from the twig surface. Raised, tan-colored lenticels are also evident on the twig’s surface. Chinese privet leaves are evergreen to semi-deciduous and are oppositely arranged (two leaves per node) along the stem on nodes that are usually less than one inch apart. The leaf stalk (or petiole, shown below) is about one-eighth inch long and covered with hairs. Leaf blades are elliptical in shape and are up to one inch wide and about two inches long. Leaf margins lack teeth (entire). The upper leaf blade surfaces are glabrous (without hairs) at maturity. Hairs occur along the midvein (see photo below) and sometimes on branch veins of the lower surfaces.

The flowers occur in numerous, cone-shaped, branching clusters (panicles) two to four inches long that profusely cover the shrub when flowering. A short, slender stalk (pedicel) supports each flower. The green calyx consists of four sepals fused to form a small, cup-like structure. Four white to off-white petals that are basally fused to one another make-up the corolla. Each flower has two stamens attached to the corolla, and they project beyond the corolla throat (exserted stamens). The flowers produce a somewhat disagreeable aroma. The single pistil in each flower matures into a blue-black, berry-like fruit. The fruit are ellipsoidal to nearly globose and are produced abundantly in persistent, pyramidal clusters.

Chinese privet is similar to Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), a European species that is naturalized in more temperate areas of the eastern United States. Chinese privet has evergreen to semi-evergreen leaves, densely hairy twigs and petioles, pubescent midveins on its lower leaf surfaces, and exserted stamens. In contrast, common privet is deciduous to somewhat evergreen with sparsely pubescent twigs, glabrous midveins, and included stamens (the tips of the anthers are shorter than the extended corolla lobes) (Gleason 1952).

General Upkeep and Control

LIST2"The trees are relatively trouble-free and generally do not require pruning. The fruits can look somewhat messy in fall and winter when they drop, especially onto a manicured lawn where they can also make mowing difficult. Avoid planting near a patio or sidewalk where the fruits can be painful when stepped on with bare feet. "

Plant Basics
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Duration Perennial
Plant Nativity Introduced to U.S.

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA