privet season

When thoughts begin to turn to spring and eyes keep a sharp lookout for anything newly green, the lowly privet shrub/tree/hedge/bush comes to mind.

This “native plant” grows low to the ground, and sprouts its leaves long before most trees. By this time of year, their green is seldom noticed. It becomes “filler” between and among the larger, showier trees that tower above it. But its first impression is a good one, making faces smile and hearts sing for the return of spring.

That is privet season #1.

Now we are fully into spring, a warm one that came early and has given us quite a few glimpses of summer with some very warm days.

Last weekend as my husband and I walked we noticed a strong sweet smell. At first we thought it was the honeysuckle we passed, but we traced it to some large bushes with white flowers. We did not know what it was but it definitely made an impression.

As I walked this week with a friend we passed similar bushes on our route. She did not know what they were either, but there were so many of them we were almost overcome with their aroma.  Later that day I stopped at the local farmers Co-op, and when I described what we had seen and smelled, I was told it was “probably privet hedge. It grows everywhere and it is hard to get rid of.”

So I did my online research and sure enough, I have to agree that it is Chinese privet, not truly “native” after all but very invasive. Steve Bender, Southern Living‘s Grumpy Gardner, described it as having a “cloyingly sweet smell that many people find somewhat sickening.” I suppose that would be true if you were surrounded by it, but a little of the scent is very nice.

What was once sold as a shrub for your yard has now become very prevalent, thanks to birds “passing along” the berries produced through the flowers. So privet is considered a nuisance. True, it does have the ability to spread and choke out other plants. Its pollen is a challenge for allergy sufferers. Plus it has few pests and grows extremely fast, meaning it must be trimmed often to keep it in line.

I have always recognized privet, but how could I have missed its flowering season all these years? Maybe the warm spring has made them bloom excessively this year. It is possible that I just thought it was honeysuckle. Maybe the ones along my frequent pathways are just now maturing and able to flower. Or it could be that they usually bloom in much warmer weather when I would not be walking outside so often.

Whatever the reason I am glad to learn something new, and I am happy to have another one of nature’s plants to appreciate.

So this is privet season #2.

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