All invasive plants have a few characteristics in common: they are aggressive growers, they reproduce quickly, there are few to no native species that consume them to help keep them in check and they are well-suited to flourish in the environment into which they are introduced.
All things considered, my top three invasives of the plant kingdom include garlic mustard, oriental bittersweet and Japanese hops.
The reddish orange colored roots are just scary, growing like a vast underground spider web. Begin pulling it by hand and it will come up with moderate effort, but it will disturb the soil for a far distance from the main vine.
Don’t be fooled by its attractive berries. Yes, they are nice for fall decorations but toss that attractive wreath out into the backyard once it’s passed its prime and a landscape management problem is born.
Take care with eradication with Oriental bittersweet: there is also a native bittersweet in Virginia which looks very similar – American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). One way to tell them apart is that C. orbicaluatus bears blunt thorns and produces berries along the entire stem whereas C. scandens only has berries at the tips of the vines.
Japanese hops have a nasty defense to discourage its removal: tiny briars line its stems and pulling it by hand without gloves and long sleeves is akin to rubbing course sandpaper rapidly and repeatedly over one’s bare skin.
The seeds also have briars, a clever distribution technique, as they get caught in a passing opossum’s fur or hitchhike on the coats of raccoons, beavers and other rivers' edge inhabitant to be spread to other locations.
So, at this moment, these three nasties hold top places on my invasives list. It is a fluid list though and could easily change if I encounter a particularly large patch of Japanese stilt grass or wavy leaf basketgrass, porcelain berry, mile-a-minute weed or any of the other pernicious invaders. These and other plants are having a significant and lasting effect upon our local ecosystems. As always, the take away is plant natives!