Fact Sheet

Chinese/European Privet Ligustrum sinense Lour. L vulgare

November 28, 2007

Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) and European privet (L. vulgare) are difficult to distinguish except at flowering, both are evergreen to semievergreen. Both are thicket-forming shrubs to 30 feet in height that are soft woody, multiple stemmed with long leafy branches and opposite leaves less than 2 inches long. Showy clusters of small white flowers in spring yield clusters of small ovoid, dark-purple berries during fall and winter.

Ecology Aggressive and troublesome invasives, often forming dense thickets, particularly in bottom-land forests and along fencerows, thus gaining access to forests, fields, and right-of-ways. Shade tolerant. Colonize by root sprouts and spread widely by abundant bird- and other animal-dispersed seeds.

History and use. Introduced from China and Europe in the early to mid-1800s. Traditional southern ornamentals. Deer browse Chinese privet sprouts.

Stem. Opposite or whorled, long slender branching that increases upward with twigs projecting outward at near right angles. Brownish gray turning gray green and short hairy (rusty or grayish) with light dots (lenticels). Leaf scars semicircular with one bundle scar. Bark brownish gray to gray and slightly rough (not fissured).

Leaves. Opposite in two rows at near right angle to stem, ovate to elliptic with rounded tip (often minutely indented), 0.8 to 1.6 inches long and 0.4 to 1.2 inches wide. Margins entire. Lustrous green above and pale green with hairy midvein beneath (European privet not hairy beneath). Petioles 0.04 to 0.2 inch long, rusty hairy. Leaves usually persistent during winter.

Flowers. April to June. Abundant, terminal and upper axillary clusters on short branches forming panicles of white flowers. Corolla four-lobed, tube 0.06 to 0.1 inch long and equal or shorter than the lobes, with stamens extending from the corolla on Chinese privet and within the corolla on European privet. Fragrant.

Fruit and seeds. July to March. Dense ovoid drupes hanging or projecting outward, 0.2 to 0.3 inch long and 0.16 inch wide, containing one to four seeds. Pale green in summer ripening to dark purple and appearing almost black in late fall to winter.

Resemble Japanese privet, L. japonicum Thunb., which has larger leaves and is further described in this book. Also resemble upland swampprivet, Forestiera ligustrina (Michx.) Poir., which occurs mainly on rocky sites and has short twigs and sparse flowers and fruit.

Recommended control procedures:

  • Thoroughly wet all leaves with one of the following herbicides in water with a surfactant (August to December): a glyphosate herbicide as a 3-percent solution (12 ounces per 3-gallon mix) or Arsenal AC* as a 1-percent solution (4 ounces per 3-gallon mix).
  • For stems too tall for foliar sprays, apply Garlon 4 as a 20-percent solution in commercially available basal oil, diesel fuel, or kerosene (2.5 quarts per 3-gallon mix) with a penetrant (check with herbicide distributor) to young bark as a basal spray. Or, cut large stems and immediately treat the stumps with Arsenal AC* or Velpar L* as a 10-percent solution in water (1 quart per 3-gallon mix) with a surfactant. When safety to surrounding vegetation is desired, immediately treat stumps and cut stems with Garlon 3A or a glyphosate herbicide as a 20-percent solution in water (2.5 quarts per 3-gallon mix) with a surfactant.

*Nontarget plants may be killed or injured by root uptake

From: Miller, James H. 2003. Nonnative invasive plants of southern forests: a field guide for identification and control. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS–62. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 93 p.