Privet - narrow-leaf (Ligustrum sinense)

Also known as: Chinese privet

Narrow-leaf privet is a dense evergreen shrub that produces clusters of strongly perfumed white flowers. It has negative impacts on agriculture, native vegetation and human health.

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How does this weed affect you?

Narrow-leaf privet invades forests, woodlands, orchards, plantation forests, gardens and areas along waterways. Dense stands of privet out-compete other plants for water, nutrients and sunlight.

Narrow-leaf privet:

  • reduces yields in orchards, pastures, and plantation forests
  • prevents access to waterways
  • is expensive to control
  • prevents native plants from growing
  • reduces food and habitat for native animals.

Narrow leaf privet has a negative impact on many endangered plants, animals and ecological communities.

Human health

Privets can cause the following health problems:

  • Eating the berries may cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Touching leaves or berries can cause skin or eye irritation.
  • The flower perfume may cause respiratory irritation.
  • People who are sensitive to grass pollen can become sensitive to privet, producing allergic reactions.

What to do if a person is poisoned:

  • If the patient is unconscious, unresponsive or having difficulty breathing dial 000 or get to the emergency section of a hospital immediately.
  • If the patient is conscious and responsive call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or your doctor.
  • If going to a hospital take a piece of the plant for identification.

Livestock health

An unidentified toxin in the leaves and fruit of narrow leaf privet may cause tremors and seizures in poultry. No cases have occurred in Australia.

What does it look like?

Small-leaf privet is a densely branched multi-stemmed evergreen shrub about 3–5 m (occasionally growing up to 7 m). In colder areas it may lose leaves through winter.

Leaves are:

  • dull green
  • oval-shaped
  • wavy along the edges
  • pointed or round at the tip
  • 20–50 mm long and 15–25 mm wide
  • covered in fine hairs underneath
  • opposite along the stem
  • at right angles to the stem.

Flowers are:

  • white with mauve to purple anthers
  • tubular with 0.5–2 mm long tubes and 3.5 mm lobes
  • in clusters
  • very fragrant
  • mostly produced in spring but can flower year round.

Berries are:

  • about 5 mm in diameter
  • green when young
  • dull purple or blue-black when ripe
  • usually ripen in autumn and winter but fruit can be produced year round.

Seeds are:

  • oblong
  • 3–4 mm long
  • in pairs in the berries.

Stems and branches:

  • Stems are covered in smooth brownish grey bark.
  • Branches have greyish-green smooth bark.
  • Young branches are covered in fine short hairs.
  • Small branches have white raised bumps (lenticels).

Roots are:

  • shallow
  • woody
  • branching
  • thicker near the crown.

Similar looking plants

Narrow-leaf privet looks like two other privets:

  • European privet (Ligustrum vulgare), which has flowers with white anthers and the leaves do not have wavy edges.
  • Broad-leaf privet (Ligustrum lucidum), which has bigger leaves (4–13 cm long) and flowers with yellow anthers.

Where is it found?

Narrow-leaf privet mostly grows in the coastal and tableland areas of New South Wales. Nurseries sold privets as ornamental plants and they were commonly used for garden hedges. Florists also used the flowers.

 It is a native plant in China.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Narrow-leaf privet grows best in:

  • warm, humid environments
  • areas with annual rainfall between 700 and 1600 mm
  • soils with high moisture levels throughout the year
  • fertile, shale or clay derived soils.

It grows well along creeks, gullies and drainage lines. However, it can also tolerate drier areas if runoff water is temporarily available. It tolerates a range of soil types from sand to heavy clays.

Narrow-leaf privet can tolerate very low light levels and grow under dense forests. 

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Privet - narrow-leaf during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2021)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

How does it spread?

Many privets were planted in gardens especially as hedges.

By seed

Mature plants produce up to ten million seeds each growing season. Seeds need to be just below the soil surface or litter layer (to 1 cm) before they grow. The seeds survive only 6–12 months in the soil.

 Seeds are spread by:

  • birds and other animals that eat the fruit (Seeds that have passed through animal guts can germinate immediately.)
  • flowing water
  • garden dumping
  • dumping floral arrangements with privet fruit.

By plant parts

It can grow new shoots from root and stem suckers. This creates dense stands of privet.

More information

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Control

Wide dispersal of seed by birds cannot be controlled; therefore controlling the spread of privet requires the removal of seed trees and young seedlings before they produce seed. Successful weed control requires follow up after the initial efforts. This means looking for and killing regrowth or new seedlings. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful.

 To tackle narrow-leaf privet:

  • control mature trees to reduce seed production
  • check for new seedlings
  • control young plants before they produce seed
  • manage replacement vegetation to outcompete privet
  • minimise nutrient rich runoff into riparian areas.

Narrow-leaf privet is sometimes food and habitat for native animals. For these situations, remove it in stages, replacing it with suitable native species.

Trimming hedges

Narrow-leaf privet was commonly planted as a hedge in the gardens of heritage houses. If these hedges are to be kept, regular trimming should be done to stop flowering and seed set.

Physical removal

These methods will reduce the seeding capacity of a large infestations but will not eradicate it. Follow-up with herbicide control or manual removal. Revegetate treated areas with trees, shrubs, ground covers or pastures and repeatedly hand-weeded or slashed. Do not use mechanical removal in steep areas or near water courses.

By hand

Pull or dig out small to medium sized plants by hand. If the root segments break, dig them out to prevent regrowth. Hang plants upside down to dry out the roots. This method minimises impacts on native plants and soil disturbance. 

By machine

Earth-moving machinery may be used for removal of dense stands of privet if high levels of soil disturbance can be tolerated.

Slashing

Large areas of seedlings or regrowth can be slashed.

Fire

Burning is not an effective control measure because privet is not very flammable and bush fires do not usually move through privet dominated vegetation. Narrow-leaf privet can regenerate after fires have killed all above-ground plant parts. Fire can be used as an initial control measure if followed the next year by treating regrowth with cut stump herbicide applications. Frequent burning may help control seedlings in infested eucalypt forests and woodlands.

Chemical control

Spraying

Spraying is suitable for plants up to 3 m tall and those in dense infestations when there is no risk of spraying desirable vegetation. Spray actively growing plants that are not under any heat or moisture stress. Completely cover all the foliage for successful control.

Splatter gun

Gas or splatter guns apply low volumes of high concentration herbicide to plants 6–10 m away. Add marker dye to help identify treated areas. This method minimises off target damage because only a small number of leaves need to be treated and large sized droplets are used.

Basal barking

Use basal barking on larger plants amongst other vegetation. Apply herbicide mixed with diesel all the way around every trunk and lower stem.

Cut stump method

This method is effective on young plants, suckers, and regrowth. Cut trunks or stems, and apply herbicide to the stump immediately (within 15 seconds of cutting). Treat every stump.

Stem injection

This method is suitable for large plants and has the lowest risk of damage to other vegetation. It is also cost effective in terms of labour and volume of herbicide required. Drill or make cuts into the sapwood and fill with herbicide immediately (within 15 seconds of making the cut). Treat every stem.

Biological control

There are no introduced biological control agents available for privet control in Australia.

Reducing nutrient levels

Increased nutrient levels often contribute to the presence of privet infestations. Reducing or stopping the movement of nutrients in water from residential or industrial areas into riparian areas may help prevent establishment of large privet infestations.

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


Glyphosate 360 g/L (Various products)
Rate: Undiluted (1–2 mL per cut)
Comments: Stem injection technique, as per label.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


Metsulfuron-methyl 300 g/kg + Aminopyralid 375 g/kg (Stinger™)
Rate: 20 g per 100 L of water
Comments: Hand gun application.
Withholding period: 3 - 56 days (see label)
Herbicide group: B, Inhibitors of acetolactate synthase (ALS inhibitors) + I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: High/Moderate


Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
Rate: 10 g per 100 L of water
Comments: Apply to bushes up to 3 m high; complete coverage is essential.
Withholding period: Nil (recommended not to graze for 7 days before treatment and for 7 days after treatment to allow adequate chemical uptake in target weeds).
Herbicide group: B, Inhibitors of acetolactate synthase (ALS inhibitors)
Resistance risk: High


Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
Rate: 1 g/L + organosilicone penetrant
Comments: Gas gun / Splatter gun application. Apply only to bushes up to 3 m high when in full leaf and actively growing. Thorough coverage is essential.
Withholding period: Nil (recommended not to graze for 7 days before treatment and for 7 days after treatment to allow adequate chemical uptake in target weeds).
Herbicide group: B, Inhibitors of acetolactate synthase (ALS inhibitors)
Resistance risk: High


Picloram 44.7 g/kg + Aminopyralid 4.47 g/L (Vigilant II ®)
Rate: Undiluted
Comments: Cut stump application: Apply a 3–5 mm layer of gel for stems less than 20 mm. Apply 5 mm layer on stems above 20 mm. Stem inject application for trees: Make a series of cuts 15-20 mm deep around the trunk using an axe or saw. Space cuts evenly with no more than a 20-40 mm gap between them. Apply a 5 mm layer of gel over the lower surface of the cut.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Triclopyr 240 g/L + Picloram 120 g/L (Access™ )
Rate: 1.0 L per 30 L of diesel
Comments: Basal bark/cut stump application.
Withholding period: Nil
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Triclopyr 600 g/L (Garlon® 600)
Rate: 1.0 L per 12 L of diesel
Comments: Basal bark/cut stump application.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Central Tablelands
Exclusion zone: urban areas of Bathurst Council, Blayney Council, Lithgow Council, Oberon Council, and Orange City Council
Regional Recommended Measure*
Whole region: The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Exclusion zone: The plant is prevented from flowering and fruiting. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Outside exclusion zone: Land managers reduce impacts from the plant on priority assets.
Northern Tablelands Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfil the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.
For further information call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline on 1800 680 244 or send an email to weeds@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Reviewed 2021