20 Invasive and Aggressive Trees

Tamarisk tree branches with small pink flowers against blue sky

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Invasive trees can wreak havoc on your yard, garden, and any plant that crosses their path. It's important to identify these trees as soon as possible to avoid any damage done to your plants and property.

Here are 20 invasive trees to keep an eye out for.

  • 01 of 20

    Amur Corktree (Phellodendron amurense)

    Picture of an Amur corktree

    Justin Tso / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    This invasive tree is known as Amur corktree or Chinese corktree. In some areas, this can be a good choice for an urban tree, as it can tolerate a wide variety of conditions. It is able to reseed itself and has become invasive in many locations, and the fruit has an unpleasant odor when bruised. You can help control its spread if you only plant the male versions of this dioecious tree. 

    • Native Area: Eastern Asia
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 4
    • Height: 30 to 45 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 02 of 20

    Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)

    Picture of Black Locust pods

    Roberto Verzo / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The black locust (also known as the false acacia, post locust, yellow locust, green locust, and white locust) bears beautiful flowers and can tolerate many different conditions. Like most of the members of the legume family, it can fix nitrogen in the soil and can grow in nitrogen-deficient areas, making this a good possible choice for some problematic areas. However, it produces an abundance of seeds, and you will soon have new seedlings everywhere. The black locust also has weak wood that can break off easily, especially during storms. It's also very susceptible to borers, which can kill the tree.

    • Native Area: Southeastern United States
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 9
    • Height: 30 to 70 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 03 of 20

    Blue Gum Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)

    Picture of a Blue Gum Eucalyptus forest

    M Hedin / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The blue gum eucalyptus tree, or common eucalyptus, will spread itself in warm zones. This can be especially troubling since it is very flammable and can cause problems in places like fire-prone California. Like other trees, it has adapted and drops seeds after flames pass through. The tree can also regrow even if it has been burned or cut down.

    • Native Area: Tasmania and southeastern Australia
    • USDA Zones: 7 through 10
    • Height: 150 to 180 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 04 of 20

    Box Elder (Acer negundo)

    Picture of Box Elder Tree

    Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    One distinct feature of the box elder, sometimes called the maple ash or western boxelder, is its compound leaves, which are different than the familiar palmate leaf of other maple trees. Its wood is weak and brittle, it attracts box elder bugs, borers, and is prone to disease. This tree spreads easily through its abundant seeding by samaras. On a positive note, this is one of the best species for tapping sap for syrup.

    • Native Area: Central and North America
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 8
    • Height: 35 to 50 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • 05 of 20

    Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius)

    Picture of the Brazilian Pepper Tree

    homeredwardprice / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Ants love hanging out on this tree and will carry the seeds away. Birds and small mammals also spread the seeds, and the tree can send out suckers. The canopy is thick and will make it too shady for other plants below it.

    If you have ever seen pink peppercorns at a restaurant or store, they were harvested from this tree or its sibling, the Peruvian pepper (Schinus molle). This plant is considered a noxious weed in Florida. Familiar relatives include poison ivy, sumacs, mangoes, pistachios, and cashews.​

    • Native Area: South America
    • USDA Zones: 9 through 11
    • Height: 20 to 30 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 06 of 20

    Chinaberry (Melia azedarach)

    Picture of a chinaberry

    oddharmonic / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    This tree, sometimes called Pride of India, spreads after birds eat the fruit and shed the seeds through their droppings. It takes over and native plants fail due to shade cover and allelopathy, which is when the tree releases biochemicals to inhibit the growth of other species. The tree also makes the soil around it more alkaline through fallen leaves; this can make it more difficult for other plants to thrive.

    • Native Area: Asia and Australia
    • USDA Zones: 7 through 10
    • Height: 18 to 60 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    Warning

    This tree and its fruit is toxic to people, dogs, cats, and other pets.

  • 07 of 20

    Chinese Tallow Tree (Sapium sebiferum or Triadica sebifera)

    Picture of the Chinese Tallow Tree

    Tatters / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The name Chinese tallow tree, or popcorn tree, is given because the seeds can be used to make vegetable tallow. These seeds also inspire the name popcorn tree due to its appearance. However, do not ingest the berries: they are poisonous to humans. This species can prove to be useful in the right locations as you can make biodiesel from it. 

    • Native Area: China and Japan
    • USDA Zones: 8 through 10
    • Height: 30 to 40 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun

    Warning

    All parts of this tree are toxic to people and pets.

  • 08 of 20

    Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

    Picture of Common Buckthorn

    hspauldi / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    This dioecious plant, sometimes called purging buckthorn, buckthorn, or European buckthorn, is a large tree or small plant. Birds love the fruit and spread the seeds, but it also rampantly self-seeds. Common buckthorn is difficult to eradicate. Even if you try to cut or burn it down, it will still be able to send out new shoots and regrow. You can help curb this growth by painting the stump with a herbicide like glyphosate right after it is cut or burned.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia, and Europe
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 7
    • Height: 18 to 25 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    Warning

    All parts of this plant are toxic to people and pets.

    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • 09 of 20

    Common Ironwood (Casuarina equisetifolia)

    Picture of Common Ironwood

    Sam Fraser-Smith / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Though this tree appears to have needles and cones, it is not a conifer. The tiny scale leaves are clustered closely on the thin twigs. Some of the common names include horsetail, referring to the appearance of the twigs on the branches. This species is able to fix nitrogen and spread where other plants may have problems.

    • Native Area: Asia and Australia
    • USDA Zones: 9 through 11
    • Height: Can be up to 175 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 10 of 20

    Glossy Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula or Frangula alnus)

    Picture of a Glossy Buckthorn

    henchminion / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Glossy buckthorn can be either a large shrub or small tree. They rapidly form thickets and the seeds are also spread by birds, creating more new plants. If you want to eradicate it, you can either cut it or use fire. Afterward, spread glyphosate on the remaining trunk unless you want it to start sprouting back.

    • Native Area: Europe, Asia, and Africa
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 7
    • Height: 10 to 20 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 11 of 20

    Melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia)

    Picture of Melaleuca

    mauroguanandi / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    This Australian native, sometimes called Cajeput or broad-leaved tea tree, produces a large number of seeds in the fruits, which are favored by birds. This is the source of tea tree oil. Melaleuca has several different uses in natural medicine, but one tree can produce 20 million seeds in one year. Seed is disbursed by wind and water. Considered a highly noxious weed in Florida.

    • Native Area: Papua New Guinea, Australia, and New Caledonia
    • USDA Zones: 9 through 11
    • Height: Usually 25 to 40 feet tall, but can be 100 feet
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 12 of 20

    Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

    Norway maple tree with yellow leaves in middle of park with fallen leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    This maple species is commonly used in the urban landscape. Over time, it has spread and become invasive. It does well in shade so can thrive in forests and cause problems for native plants below. Prone to diseases, plus the shallow roots can crack or cause heaving in driveways and sidewalks. Plant one of the other maple species instead to enjoy the fantastic color changes of maples in the fall.

    • Native Area: Western Asia and Europe
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 7
    • Height: 40 to 50 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • 13 of 20

    Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera or Morus papyrifera)

    Picture of Paper Mulberry

    SSKao / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The name paper mulberry is in reference to the fact that the bark is used to make paper. It is closely related to the other genus of mulberries (Morus). Like the tamarisk mentioned later in this collection of invasive trees, the paper mulberry consumes large amounts of water, making it harder for surrounding plants to get a drink. It is rapidly able to crowd out natural flora in the area. Also, its pollen can cause pollen allergies. The tree spreads easily by self-seeding as well as by birds and small mammals spreading the female tree's seeds.

    • Native Area: Asia
    • USDA Zones: 6 through 11
    • Height: 40 to 50 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 14 of 20

    Peruvian Pepper (Schinus molle)

    Picture of the Peruvian pepper tree

    wallygrom / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Pink peppercorns are collected from this tree or the related Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius). Peruvian pepper is known by many names: false pepper, American pepper, escobilla, Peruvian mastic, molle de Peru, peppercorn tree, and more.

    • Native Area: South America
    • USDA Zones: 9 through 11
    • Height: 25 to 50 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 15 of 20

    Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

    Picture of Quaking Aspen

    ZionNPS / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    One of the world's largest organisms of this tree is Pando, located in a quaking aspen forest in Utah. "Quakies" clone themselves and spread aggressively. Expect many suckers to pop up in your lawn if you have one of these. This is a good choice for the coldest zones where not many other plants are able to survive. For a similar quaking effect, instead plant a male ginkgo biloba tree.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Zones: 1 through 6
    • Height: 40 to 50 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 16 of 20

    Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)

    Picture of Russian Olive

    daryl_mitchell / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    One reason that the Russian olive is able to spread so well is that it can fix nitrogen, allowing it to grow where other plants struggle. Another is the fact that birds love the fruit and spread the seeds, which germinate and thrive readily. It's a noxious weed, particularly in areas where it can invade watersheds and marshlands.

    • Native Area: Asia
    • USDA Zones: 2 through 7
    • Height: 12 to 15 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • 17 of 20

    Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila)

    Picture of Siberian elm

    Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The Siberian elm, sometimes called the Chinese elm or the Asiatic elm, spreads through the thousands of seeds produced each summer. The resulting seedlings are difficult to eradicate. A similar tree that is much less invasive (and less susceptible to Dutch elm disease) is its relative, the Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata).

    • Native Area: Asia
    • USDA Zones: 4 through 9
    • Height: 50 to 70 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 18 of 20

    Tamarisk (Tamarix spp.)

    Tamarisk tree with small pink flowers covering thin branches

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    These thirsty trees, saltcedars, crowd out native plants by using up lots of water, which is especially troublesome since many of these trees are found in drought areas. They also get the name salt cedar because they collect salt in their leaves. As the foliage drops, the soil becomes saltier and further causes problems for other plants.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia, and Europe
    • USDA Zones: Depends on species
    • Height: Depends on species
    • Exposure: Full sun
  • 19 of 20

    Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

    Picture of the Tree of Heaven

    Nicholas_T / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    If you have ever read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," this is the tree from the book. If there is a crack in the pavement, the tree of heaven will find it and start growing. This tree gives off a strong smell, inspiring names like stink tree. The male's flowers often smell worse than the female's. It spreads by profuse seeds, as well as suckering, forming dense colonies that choke out native plants.

    • Native Area: China and Taiwan
    • USDA Zones: 4 through 8
    • Height: 40 to 80 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 20 of 20

    White Poplar (Populus alba)

    Picture of White Poplar

    Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Both the trunk and the leaf undersides are white on this tree. If you plant one white poplar—sometimes called silver poplar, abele, or silverleaf poplar—it will not be long before it sends out suckers and creates new trees. It also drops a lot of litter including many seeds, which contributes to a messy yard or lawn. The tree is prone to many diseases and pests, and its large colonies choke out native species.

    • Native Area: Europe and Asia
    • USDA Zones: 4 through 8
    • Height: 50 to 70 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Robinia pseudoacacia. NC State Extension.

  2. Eucalyptus globulus. Fire Effects Information System (FEIS). U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

  3. Schinus terebinthifolia. Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. 

  4. Melia azederach. Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.

  5. Chinaberry Tree. Texas Invasive Species Institute. 

  6. Pride-of-India. ASPCA.

  7. Sapium sebiferum. NC State Extension.

  8. Fact Sheet for the Chinese Tallow Tree Project. Mississippi Forestry Commission.

  9. Sapium Sebiferum. NC State Extension.

  10. Toxic Plants (by common name). University of California. 

  11. Poisonous Plant Garden. University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. 

  12. SFWMD Helps Lead Charge Against Invasive Melaleuca Trees. South Florida Water Management District. 

  13. Yamungu, Alongo Boniface Byamalong. Influence of Paper Mulberry Presence on Native Tree Species in Mabira Central Forest Reserve in Uganda. OALib, vol. 07, no. 09, 2020, pp. 1–12. doi:10.4236/oalib.1106399

  14. Papia, F., et al. Allergic Reactions to Genus Morus Plants: A ReviewClinical and Molecular Allergy, vol. 18, no. 1, 2020, p. 1. doi:10.1186/s12948-020-00116-7

  15. Fishlake National Forest. USDA Forest Service.

  16. 3 Nitrogen Fixing Trees for Snowy Regions. Permaculture Research Institute.

  17. Tamaris. Riparian InVasion Research Laboratory. University of California, Santa Barbara.

  18. White Poplar, Silver Poplar (Populus alba). University of Illinois Extension.