1224 Ligustrum vulgareCommon Names: common privet, European privet, ligustrum Family: Oleaceae (olive Family)
Common privet is a bushy, much branched shrub that is usually deciduous but often semi-evergreen in warm winters. Privets can get 10-15 ft (34.5 m) tall and just as wide. The glossy dark green leaves are opposite, lance shaped or narrowly oval, and about 2.5 in (6 cm) long. Terminal clusters of white flowers are produced in early summer. The individual flowers are funnel shaped with four lobes and quite small, but the panicles are up to 2 in (5 cm) long, and the whole inflorescence is quite showy. The flowers are strongly odiferous, but most people find the scent unpleasant. The fruits are small black berrylike drupes containing 1-4 seeds.
Common privet sends up suckers and seeds itself readily, often forming dense thickets where it has escaped cultivation.
A couple dozen cultivars have been selected. 'Aureum' has yellow foliage; 'Argenteo-variegatum' has leaves with white variegations; 'Aureo-variegatum' has yellow variegated foliage; 'Leucocarpum' has white fruit; 'Nanum' (='Lodense') is a low growing form that grows in a mound wider than it is tall; 'Pyramidale' has a somewhat cone shaped habit.
Ligustrum vulgare is native to the Mediterranean region, including SW Asia, North Africa and southern Europe. It has been cultivated in Europe and North America for centuries, and become an invasive weed in many areas.
Light: Common privet thrives in full sun and does well in partial shade. Moisture: Common privet has ordinary water needs. Water when the soil dries out. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 8. Common privet is vulnerable to freeze damage and dieback in exceptionally cold winters. Propagation: Semi-ripe stem cuttings can be rooted. Seed should be sown in autumn in a cold frame. Cultivars are grafted onto species stock. Unfortunately, the stock often sends up suckers which can overgrow the selected scion and hide it, so cultivars should be monitored and suckers cut out as they appear.
Common privet is often used in a screen or hedge since it responds so well to pruning. Formal hedges should be clipped twice each summer. This shrub is also used in mixed borders and as a specimen plant. The glossy foliage and the white flowers are attractive, and the shiny black berries last well into winter, providing seasonal interest.
Floridata has profiled three other species of Ligustrum. We like the hybrid species Ligustrum X vicaryi (golden vicary privet) which is not invasive. On the other hand, Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum) and glossy privet (L. lucidum) are considered highly invasive and should not be cultivated in the U.S. Chinese privet (L. sinense) is also on the do-not-use list.
Common privet (L. vulgare) is also invasive and has made a nuisance of itself throughout most of the U.S. It is officially considered an invasive pest plant in Australia, Canada and the U.S. Not only that, common privet is toxic to livestock and the fruits are mildly poisonous to humans.
Floridata recommends that these invasive exotic privets not be planted in the United States. There are better, native alternatives that are evergreen (or semi-evergreen) and just as suitable for home landscapes and for hedges. Among these are Walter’s viburnum (Viburnum obovatum), yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), gallberry (Ilex glabra), fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), Mayberry (Vaccinium elliottii), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), northern baybarry (Myrica pennsylvanica), and yellow anise (Illicium parviflora), to name a few.
Steve Christman 9/14/14