Invasive Species in the Field Guide

Photo of an Asian longhorned beetle male, specimen
Anoplophora glabripennis

Learn how to identify this invasive, potentially devastating insect! An unwanted arrival from Asia that's now living in parts of the United States, the Asian longhorned beetle could destroy millions of acres of American hardwoods. Report any sightings immediately.

Invasive autumn olive in fruit
Elaeagnus umbellata

This shrub can be found all over the state, since it was planted widely with the best of intentions. Despite its “pros,” this species has proven to be very invasive. It threatens native ecosystems and should not be planted.

Image of a bighead carp
Hypophthalmichthys nobilis

This invasive Asian carp is not as frequent a jumper as its cousin, the silver carp, but it also leaps from the water when disturbed, threatening boaters' safety.

Mylopharyngodon piceus

This large, invasive carp from Asia eats mussels and snails and can damage populations of native mollusks. It is illegal to transport live black carp across state lines.

Image of a bush honeysuckles
Lonicera maackii (Amur) and Lonicera x bella (Bella)

If you’ve got a giant green thicket in your woods, you may have a bush honeysuckle infestation. These invasive plants are shrubby natives of Asia. Here in America, where they have no natural controls, they leaf out early, grow fast, spread fast and form dense thickets that crowd out Missouri’s native forest plants.

Callery Pear
Pyrus calleryana

Sometimes a specific variety of a tree becomes so popular that the whole species becomes known by that name. This is the case with the widely planted 'Bradford' callery pear. Although callery pear has been hugely popular in landscaping, it can escape and hybridize with relatives. Alarmingly, it has become an invasive plant. Learn more about this problem, so you can choose your landscaping trees wisely!

Photo of Canada thistle flowers
Cirsium arvense

Canada thistle is a native to Eurasia and arrived on our continent probably before the Revolutionary War—most likely mixed in agricultural seed. A bad weed of crop fields and rangeland farther north, it causes problems in Missouri, too.

Bothriochloa bladhii

Causasian bluestem and the closely related yellow bluestem are both aggressive, weedy degraders of pasturelands that escape cultivation and endanger native habitats. Learn more about these Old World grasses, and please don’t plant them!

Cipangopaludina chinensis malleata

The Chinese mystery snail is an invasive species quickly taking over urban waters throughout the state. These Asian snails are popular with aquarium hobbyists, and some people appreciate them as food.

Photo of Chinese yam showing leaves and bulbils
Dioscorea oppositifolia (sometimes called D. batatas)

Similar to kudzu, Chinese yam is an aggressive vine that overtakes nearly everything within reach that stands still long enough! Learn more about this invasive plant—and please don’t plant it!

Rhamnus cathartica

You might see it for sale at a nursery, but don’t buy it! At least six states have banned this invasive exotic, and the difficult-to-control plant is causing problems here in Missouri, too. Learn how to identify it—and avoid it!

Photo of common reed plants in large colony
Phragmites australis australis

Common reed is both native and exotic, but it’s the exotic subspecies that has become an invasive problem. Taking over wetlands with its dense stands, it changes the plant and animal communities and even the way the water flows.

Photo of common teasel flowering heads
Dipsacus fullonum

“Infestation” is the term for what teasels are doing in Missouri. Learn to identify these thistlelike plants, and help to control the weedy spread of these tough, prickly invaders.

Photo of crown vetch plants with flowers
Securigera varia (formerly Coronilla varia)

When you drive through Missouri in the summer, you’re almost guaranteed to see the pink flower clusters of crown vetch, whose masses of green foliage coat the right-of-ways along highways. This weedy plant stabilizes the dirt after road construction but degrades our natural ecosystems.

metallic, emerald-green beetle on ash leaf
Agrilus planipennis

Learn to ID and report signs of this highly destructive, invasive beetle that kills every type of ash tree—even healthy, vigorous ones.

Photo of Eurasian collared-dove walking on grass
Streptopelia decaocto

The Eurasian collared-dove was introduced in the Bahamas and has rapidly spread throughout most of the United States. At first glance, it looks like a chunky, pale gray mourning dove.

Photograph of a European Starling
Sturnus vulgaris

Few Americans love this bold nonnative bird, purposefully introduced to our continent in the late 1800s and now abundant throughout our country.

Photo of male and female European wood wasps on pine stump
Sirex noctilio

The European wood wasp, or sirex woodwasp, is known to cause the death of up to 80 percent of the pine trees in an area, and it could soon arrive in Missouri. Help protect our pines by learning how to identify this troublesome insect.

Image of a feral hog
Sus scrofa

Feral hogs could cost Missouri millions of dollars in agricultural, environmental and property damage. As they root and wallow, they plow the soil to depths of 2–8 inches—sometimes for many acres! And this is just the beginning of the trouble they can cause to humans, livestock and the environment.

Photo of garlic mustard plant with flowers
Alliaria petiolata

Because each plant disperses a large number of seeds, garlic mustard can outcompete native vegetation for light, moisture, nutrients, soil, and space as it quickly colonizes an area.

golden rain tree
Koelreuteria paniculata

This native of China and Korea was cultivated in Missouri for years, often in urban landscaping. Because it readily escapes from cultivation and is invasive, it is no longer recommended for planting in Missouri.

Image of a gypsy moth
Lymantria dispar

Accidentally introduced to the eastern United States from Europe, this species has been responsible for millions of dollars in damages to forests. You can help specialists to protect our forests by learning how to recognize the gypsy moth and its larvae and reporting any occurrences you find.

Photo of a clump of hydrilla held in a hand
Hydrilla verticillata

Hydrilla is probably the worst submersed aquatic weed in America. It harms aquatic communities in small ponds, lakes, and rivers. It hurts our economy by hindering fishing and other recreational uses in large reservoirs. Learn about it and prevent its spread.

Photo of Indian strawberry plant with flower
Duchesnea indica (sometimes called Potentilla indica)

Indian strawberry is a weedy plant that looks a lot like strawberry, except its petals are yellow and its small, strawberry-like fruits lack juiciness and flavor.

Lonicera japonica

You might enjoy its fragrance, but don’t kid yourself about this invasive, exotic vine: Japanese honeysuckle is an aggressive colonizer that shades out native plants and harms natural communities. Learn how to recognize it!

Photo of Japanese knotweed
Fallopia japonica

One of the worst invasive species in the world, this plant can thrive in many places and can even damage foundations of buildings—not to mention the harm it causes in natural habitats. Learn to “know thine enemy,” so you can prevent its spread.

Photo of Japanese stiltgrass
Microstegium vimineum

Japanese stiltgrass is an invasive annual grass with thin, pale green, lance-shaped leaves that are 3 inches long. It has spread to nearly every eastern U.S. state. It forms dense patches, displacing and outcompeting native species for nutrients and light.

Photo of Johnson grass flower clusters
Sorghum halepense

Johnson grass is a native of the Mediterranean that is invasive in our country. It’s a weed that infests cropland and degrades native ecosystems, and heavy infestations are found in all the major river bottoms of Missouri.

Photo of a huge mass of kudzu vines covering trees and ground
Pueraria montana

Of the many invasive exotic plants that were originally introduced to stop soil erosion and improve soils, kudzu is one of the worst. This “vine that ate the South” is often the first plant that comes to mind when we think of “invasive exotics.”

Photo of leafy spurge seed heads
Euphorbia esula

When you consider the negative effects this plant has on natural habitats, and how hard it is to control or eradicate, you almost want to rename it “leafy scourge”! This invasive plant is spreading in our state. Learn how to identify it.

mimosa
Albizia julibrissin

Grown as an ornamental for its attractive pink flower clusters, its gracefully spreading branches, and its delicate leaves, this native of Asia is easily propagated and grows rapidly—unfortunately, it has become established as a weedy, invasive exotic in much of the state.

Rosa multiflora

Starting more than a century ago, this nonnative rose was planted across America — for many good reasons — but it has proven to be invasive, and now the goal is to stop its spread.

Photo of musk thistle flowerheads showing purplish florets and nodding habit
Carduus nutans

An invasive native of Eurasia that is spreading in Missouri, musk thistle is a plant you should know. Learn how to tell the difference between our native thistles and these bad guys.

Photo of purple loosestrife flowering stalks showing purple flowers
Lythrum salicaria

Anyone who’s seen what purple loosestrife has done to New England and the Northeast can tell you how invasive this plant is. Learn how to identify it, so you can report any findings to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Photo of several reed canary grass plants with flowering heads
Phalaris arundinacea

Reed canary grass is native to Europe, Asia, and North America, and it varies quite a bit. Our native Missouri version, for instance, is quite different from the Eurasian type that has been widely introduced—and which has proven to be highly invasive.

russian olive
Elaeagnus angustifolia

This small tree with distinctive silvery leaves was introduced to America in the late 1800s and widely planted as an ornamental and windbreak. However, in the Great Plains and western states it has proven to be invasive, where it outcompetes native vegetation and causes a host of ecological problems. Although it's not as invasive in the eastern United States, it could become a problem here in Missouri.

Photo of large group of sericea lespedeza plants
Lespedeza cuneata

Decades ago, sericea lespedeza was introduced in hopes it would provide hay, improve pastures, stop soil erosion, and supply food and cover for wildlife. Unfortunately, it has proven to be an aggressive, invasive weed that is extremely difficult to control, escapes cultivation, and outcompetes native plants.

Photo of sesbania flowers and foliage
Sesbania herbacea (formerly S. exaltata)

Sesbania, a type of legume, may become a troublesome exotic species in wetland communities that are managed for waterfowl.

Image of a silver carp
Hypophthalmichthys molitr

This large, silvery fish is an invasive, non-native carp that causes lots of problems. It is illegal to use this fish as live bait. Do not collect, transport or dump it. Related to the bighead carp, but with the head relatively smaller, and eyes higher on head. Keel extends forward to base of pectoral fins. No dark splotches.

Photo of spotted knapweed flower head showing spots on involucral bracts
Centaurea stoebe

Spotted knapweed is an invasive plant that outcompetes native communities, takes over pastureland, and even beats back invasive sericea lespedeza! It has arrived in our state. Let’s prevent its spread.

Photo of tall fescue plants
Festuca arundinacea

You’ve seen it a million times, now learn to identify it! Technically an exotic invasive plant, tall fescue is practically everywhere, from lawns to levees, and from pastures to (unfortunately!) prairies.

tree of heaven
Ailanthus altissima

Tree-of-Heaven is a fast-growing exotic that has become common in urban areas. It is weedy and aggressive and should not be planted. Recognize it by its 2-foot-long feather-compound leaves and the unpleasant scent of the twigs when you break them.

Photo of yellow sweet clover plants in a large colony
Melilotus albus and M. officinale

These two species of sweet clover are present all over America. Although they have been planted for forage, as bee plants, and as nitrogen-fixers, white and yellow sweet clover are now classified as invasive for their weediness and the problems they pose for natural habitats.

Euonymus fortunei

Introduced from Asia as a groundcover, wintercreeper has escaped cultivation in all the eastern states. It’s frequently found near urban centers, with heavy infestations in woodlands around St. Louis and Kansas City.

Photo of yellow bluestem plant
Bothriochloa ischaemum

Yellow bluestem is a nonnative, aggressive, weedy degrader of pasturelands that escapes cultivation and endangers native habitats. It blooms in Missouri in late June to July, far earlier than our native bluestems.

Zebra Mussel
Dreissena polymorpha

Shells with alternating light and dark bands give these highly invasive non-native freshwater mussels their common name. Learn to identify them so you can avoid spreading them to your favorite lake, pond or stream.

Key Messages: 

Missourians care about conserving forests, fish and wildlife.

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