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Invasive Plants and Their Native Alternatives: Tamarisk (Tamarix ramossissima)

Native to Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, tamarisk is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing 6-15’ tall with smooth  reddish brown bark and small light gray-green  leaves that are sessile and scale-like.  The pink flowers have five petals and are carried in plume-like racemes ½-2 ¾” long in summer, giving way to dry capsules filled with an abundance of seeds.   Tamarisk has invaded  wetlands and waste areas from Virginia south to Georgia, west to California and the Pacific Northwest forming impenetrable thickets that destroy native plant communities.  The high sexual and asexual reproduction rates including efficient seed dispersal, account for the success of the plant. Plants grow well with full sun in a variety of soils, and are drought and  salt tolerant.   USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8

The following native plants are recommended as alternatives:

Wild Lilacs (Ceanothus spp.)

Wild lilacs are endemic to North America where they are occur on dry, sunny hillsides from coastal scrub lands to open forest clearings and are common throughout the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia south through Colorado, the Cascades of Oregon and California, and the Coastal Ranges of California.  They are usually evergreen, have large attractive clusters of tiny flowers in many colors, often with fragrance, and are an important food source for mule deer on the West Coast.  USDA Hardiness Zones varies by species.


Texas Redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis)

Rosy purple flowers in dense axillary cluster appear in spring before the large heart-shaped leaves.  In fall the leaves turn red and in winter the zigzag branching pattern provides interest.  It varies from the eastern variety in being shorter and having smaller, more glossy, and usually hairier leaves with wavy edges, and more of a tendency to have red seedpods.  This shrub to small tree is native to dry slopes of canyons  and foothills from southern Oklahoma to central Texas and northeastern Mexico.  USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9


Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

With pink and white tubular flowers in spring and summer this large shrub or small tree grows 15-25’ tall and has linear, medium-green foliage that turns yellow in fall. Native to desert washes, streamside’s, and riverbanks from Colorado to California, south to New Mexico and Mexico.   USDA Hardiness Zones 6-10


Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)

Growing 3-8’ tall, this twiggy, semievergreen shrub has white rose-like flowers in late spring and early summer, followed by feathery plume-like seed heads.  The dark green leaves are less than ½” long and are deeply lobed with edges rolled under.  Plants are native to semidesert foothills, canyons, and arroyos in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Mexico and Texas.  USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10


Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor)

The foamy cascading terminal sprays of creamy white flowers from late spring into summer give this deciduous shrub its common name.  Growing up to 7’ tall, it has small , broad, scalloped leaves and is native to dry woodlands, rock outcroppings, scree slopes and forest edges from Alberta and British Columbia, to Arizona and California.  USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9

Alabama Snow-Wreath (Neviusia alabamensis)

With puffy clusters of white flowers and pleated leaves this rounded, deciduous suckering shrub grows 4-6’ tall and 6-8’ wide and is native to open woods and rocky cliffs in Mississipppi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas.  USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8


 Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. gladulosa)

A weeping tree, honey mesquite, grows up to 25’ tall and has fine textured foliage and fragrant spikes of cream colored flowers in spring.  Native to intermittent streams, arroyos, and riverbanks from Kansas and Texas, west to New Mexico and Mexico.  USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10


Mescal Bean (Sophora secundiflora)

Also called Texas mountain laurel, this evergreen multi-trunked shrub or small tree usually grows 10-15’ tall and has dark green glossy compound leaves with 7-9 leathery 2” long leaflets.  The lavender blue flowers are fragrant and appear in drooping clusters 4-8” long from late winter to early spring.  Native to brushy slopes and open plains of Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico.  USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11


Rose Spirea (Spiraea douglasii)

Native to open woods, stream edges, clearings, and rocky slopes from Alaska, south to Montana and California, this deciduous shrub grows 3-7’ tall and has bright pink elongated terminal flower clusters in spring, and gray-green lanceolate leaves.  USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8


Hardhack (Spirea tomentosa)

This suckering deciduous shrub grows 2-4’ tall and has dense terminal  4-8” long spikes of tiny pink to rose-purple flowers from late summer to early fall. The dark green leaves are up to 3” long and have coarse marginal teeth and yellowish-brown hairs on the underside.  Native to wet areas from New Brunswick to Ontario, south to Georgia and Louisiana.  USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8