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Escaped plant

Lantana camara can escape from gardens into nearby wildlands.[1]

An escaped plant is a cultivated plant that has escaped from agriculture, forestry or garden cultivation and has become naturalized in the wild. Usually not native to an area, escaped plants may become invasive.[2] Therefore, escaped plants are the subject of research in invasion biology.[3]

Some ornamental plants have characteristics which allow them to escape cultivation and become weedy in alien ecosystems with far-reaching ecological and economic consequences. Escaped garden plants may be called garden escapes[4] or escaped ornamentals.[5] Sometimes, their origins can even be traced back to botanical gardens.


Untended, overgrown plants can escape by rooting elsewhere (English ivy)
Cairo Morning Glory can easily escape gardens by seed, runners and stem fragments.

All escaped plants belong to the so-called hemerochoric plants. This term is used across the board for plants that have been introduced directly or indirectly by humans. The term also includes the unintentionally introduced plants that were introduced through seed pollution (speirochoric) or through unintentional transport (agochoric).[6]

Plants may escape from cultivation in various ways, including the dumping of green waste in bushland and road reserves and by birds or other animals eating the fruits or seeds and dispersing them.[7] Others are accidental hitchhikers that escape on ships, vehicles, and equipment.[8] Plants can also escape through sending stolons (runners), as stolons are capable of independent growth in other areas.[9] Garden escapees can be adventive, which means they can be established by human influence in a site outside their area of origin.[10] Some plants, such as the opium poppy Papaver somniferum,[11]: 93  escaped from cultivation so long ago that they are considered archaeophytes, and their original source may be obscure.[11]: 1123 

Occasionally, seed contamination also introduces new plants that could reproduce for a short period of time. The proportion of adventitious species in open ruderal corridors at such locations can exceed 30% of the flora of these locations. Further, ornamental alien plants can easily escape their confined areas (such as gardens and greenhouses) and naturalize if the climate outside changes to their benefit.[12] In the US, there are over 5,000 escaped plants, many of which are escaped ornamentals.[13]

Ecological threats

Tradescantia fluminensis escapees infesting woodland area.

Many invasive neophytes in Australia and New Zealand were originally garden escapees. The Jerusalem thorn forms impenetrable thorny thickets in the Northern Territory which can be several kilometers in length and width. Two other plants introduced as ornamental garden plants, Asparagus asparagoides and Chrysanthemoides monilifera, now dominate the herbaceous layer in many eucalyptus forests and supplant perennials, grasses, orchids, and lilies.[14]

Neophytes that compete aggressively, and which displace and repel populations of native species, may permanently change the habitat for native species and can become an economic problem. For example, species of Opuntia (prickly pears) have been introduced from America to Australia, and have become wild, thus rendering territories unsuitable for breeding[clarification needed]; the same goes for European gorse (Ulex europaeus) in New Zealand.[15]

Rhododendron species introduced as ornamental garden plants in the British Isles crowd out island vegetation.[16] The same can be seen in many acidic peatlands in the Atlantic and subatlantic climates. Robinia pseudoacacia was imported from America to Central Europe for its rapid growth, and it now threatens the scarce steppe and natural forest areas of the drylands. Examples in forests include Prunus serotina which was initially introduced to speed up the accumulation of humus.

In North America, Tamarisk trees, native to southern Europe and temperate parts of Asia, have proven to be problematic plants. In nutrient-poor heaths, but rich in grasses and bushes (fynbos) in the region Cape in South Africa, species of eucalyptus from Australia are growing strongly. As they are largely accustomed to poor soils, and in the Cape region they lack competitors for nutrients and parasites that could regulate their population, they are able to greatly modify the biotope. In Hawaii, the epiphytic fern Phlebodium aureum, native to the tropical Americas, has spread widely and is considered an invasive plant.[17]

Particularly unstable ecosystems, already unbalanced by attacks or possessing certain characteristics, can be further damaged by escaped plants if the vegetation is already weakened. In the humid forests of Australia, escaped plants first colonize along roads and paths and then enter the interior of the regions they surround.[18]

Thunbergia mysorensis, native to India, invaded the rainforests around the coastal city of Cairns in Queensland and even invades trees 40 m high. In Central Australia, the Eurasian species Tamarix aphylla grows along river banks, repelling native tree species, and wildlife that go together, lowers water levels and increases soil salinity. As in the United States, tamarisks have proven to be formidable bio-invaders. The fight against this species of trees, which has spread widely since, appears to be almost hopeless.[19][20]

Related terms

Escaped plants can fall within the definition of, and may have a relation to, these botanical terminologies below:

Wild tulips survive, multiply and grow wild without human influence.
  • Agriophyte: Refers to plant species that have invaded natural or near-natural vegetation and can survive there without human intervention. Established in their new natural habitats, they remain part of natural vegetation even after human influence has ceased, and are independent of humans in their continued existence.[21][22] Examples in Central Europe are waterweed, Douglas fir and Japanese knotweed
  • Alien: A non native species introduced by man.[11]: 1123 
  • Archaeophyte: An alien species introduced by human activity long ago, such as the sweet chestnuts introduced by the Romans in Germany and now part of natural vegetation,[23] and the opium and field poppies.[11]: 93–94 
  • Epecophyte: Species of recent appearance, usually numerous and constant in the country, but confined to artificial habitats, such as meadows and ruderal vegetation. They are dependent on humans for existence that their habitats require constant renewal.[24]
  • Ephemerophyte: Species that are only introduced inconsistently, that die briefly from culture or that would disappear again without constant replenishment of seeds. In other words, they can establish themselves temporarily, but they are not in a position to meet all the conditions relating to the territory. A cold winter, or an unusual drought, can lead to the death of these plants; most of the time, they are not able to fight against the local flora in extreme conditions.[25]
  • Hemerochory: Plants or their seeds may have been transported voluntarily (introduction) or involuntarily by humans in a territory which they could not have colonized by their own natural mechanisms of dissemination, or at least much more slowly. They are able to maintain themselves in this new vital space without voluntary help from man. Many Central European cultivated and ornamental plants are hemorochoric – insofar as they have escaped and subsist independently of cultivation.[26] These are the forms of hemerochory:
    • Agochoric: Plants that are spread through accidental transport with, among other things, ships, trains, and cars. On land, agochoric plants used to be common in harbors, at train stations, or along railway lines. Australia, like New Zealand, has taken stringent measures to prevent the spread by seed or human transport. Agricultural implements imported into Australia must be thoroughly cleaned. Air travelers from other continents are forced to thoroughly clean the soles of their shoes.[27]
    • Ethelochoric: Deliberate introduction by seedlings, seeds, or plants in a new habitat by humans. Many cultivated plants which currently play an important role in human nutrition have been deliberately disseminated by humans. Wheat, barley, lentil, broad bean and flax, for example.
    • Speirochoric: Unintentional introduction by seeds. As all seed samples also contain the seeds of the grasses of the field from which they were obtained, the trade-in seeds of useful plants has also allowed the spread of other species. Speirochoric plants are therefore sown on soil prepared by man and compete with useful plants. Wild chamomile, poppy, cornflower, corn buttercup are example of plants that were unintentionally scattered.
  • Neophyte: An alien species introduced by man after 1500 AD. [11]: 1130 

Example species

Examples of escaped plants and/or garden escapees include:


See also


  • Angelika Lüttig, Juliane Kasten (2003): Hagebutte & Co: Blüten, Früchte und Ausbreitung europäischer Pflanzen. Fauna, Nottuln. ISBN 3-93-598090-6.
  • Christian Stolz (2013): Archäologische Zeigerpflanzen: Fallbeispiele aus dem Taunus und dem nördlichen Schleswig-Holstein. Plants as indicators for archaeological find sites: Case studies from the Taunus Mts. and from the northern part of Schleswig-Holstein (Germany). Schriften des Arbeitskreises Landes- und Volkskunde 11.
  • Herrando-Moraira, S., Nualart, N., Herrando-Moraira, A. et al. Climatic niche characteristics of native and invasive Lilium lancifolium. Sci Rep 9, 14334 (2019). Climatic niche characteristics of native and invasive Lilium lancifolium


  1. ^ Lantana (Lantana camara) by Weed Management Guide
  2. ^ Definition of escaped plant Archived 23 August 2021 at the Wayback Machine by Dave's Garden
  3. ^ Mulvaney M (2001) The effect of introduction pressure on the naturalisation of ornamental woody plants in south-eastern Australia. In 'Weed Risk Assessment'. (Eds RH Groves, FD Panetta, JG Virtue). (CSIRO Publishing: Collingwood)
  4. ^ garden escape by Philip Wilson in association with Orange Pippin & Warren IT Services. Retrieved 30 December 2023.
  5. ^ Escaped Ornamentals by Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. Retrieved 1 January 2024.
  6. ^ Loss and degradation of native plant and animal habitat by invasion of escaped garden plants, including aquatic plants – Introduction Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
  7. ^ Migratory birds disperse seeds long distances Science Daily, 22 March 2016
  8. ^ Escaping Ornamentals: A Threat to Natural Area Biodiversity By Miriam Owsley, Outreach Assistant, Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network. 23 November 2016.
  9. ^ UTRICULARIA CONTAINMENT: TRYING TOPREVENT THE GREAT ESCAPE THOMAS M. CAHILL. Department of Integrated Natural Sciences. Arizona State University at the West Campus. Retrieved 16 December 2023.
  10. ^ Wilhelm Lohmeyer, Herbert Sukopp: Agriophytes in the vegetation of Central Europe. First addendum. 2001 (Braunschweiger Geobotanische Arbeit 8), pp. 179–220
  11. ^ a b c d e Stace, C. A. (2019). New Flora of the British Isles (Fourth ed.). Middlewood Green, Suffolk, U.K.: C & M Floristics. ISBN 978-1-5272-2630-2.
  12. ^ Starfinger U, Kowarik I, Rode M, Schepker H. 2003. From desirable ornamental plant to pest to accepted addition to the flora? The perception of an alien plant species, Prunus serotina, through the centuries. Biol. Invas. 5:323–335
  13. ^ Escaped Ornamentals Escaped Ornamentals: Is your garden harboring environmental pollutants? Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board
  14. ^ Loss and degradation of native plant and animal habitat by the invasion of escaped garden plants, including aquatic plants – proposed key threatening process listing NSW Scientific Committee – preliminary determination by NSW Government
  15. ^ Australia's weedy garden escapees by The Invasive Species Council
  16. ^ Dehnen-Schmutz, Katharina; Perrings, Charles; Williamso, Mark (2004). "Controlling Rhododendron ponticum in the British Isles: an economic analysis". Journal of Environmental Management. 70 (4): 323–332. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2003.12.009. PMID 15016441.
  17. ^ Kowarik I (2005) Urban ornamentals escaped from cultivation. In: Gressel J (ed) Crop Ferality and Volunteerism. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp. 97–121.
  18. ^ Rejmanek M, Richardson DM, Higgins, SI, Pitcairn, PJ, Grotkopp E (2005) Ecology of invasive plants: state of the art. In 'Invasive Alien Species. A New Synthesis' (Eds. HA Mooney, RN Mack, JA McNeely, LE Neville, PJ Schei, JK Waage), pp104-161. (Island Press, Washington DC)
  19. ^ van Klinken, Rieks; Campbell, Shane; Heard, Tim; McKenzie, John; March, Nathan (2009). "The Biology of Australian Weeds: 54. 'Parkinsonia aculeata' L". Plant Protection Quarterly. 24 (3): 100–117.
  20. ^ Griffin, G.F.; Smith, D.M.S.; Morton, S.R.; Allan, G.E.; Masters, K.A.; Preece, N. (1989). "Status and implications of the invasion of tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla) on the Finke River, Northern Territory, Australia". Journal of Environmental Management. 29 (4): 297–315.
  21. ^ Handbook of Plant Palaeoecology, Flora and Vegetation, p.95 By R. T. J. Cappers, R. Neef
  22. ^ Plant Ecology, p.496 By Ernst-Detlef Schulze, Erwin Beck, Klaus Müller-Hohenstein
  23. ^ Wilhelm Lohmeyer, Herbert Sukopp: Agriophytes in the vegetation of Central Europe. Landwirtschaftsverlag, Münster-Hiltrup 1992, ISBN 3-7843-2073-2
  24. ^ Potentials and Limitations of Ecosystem Analysis, Extinction and Naturalization of Plant Species p.261, edited by Ernst-Detlef Schulze, Helmut Zwölfer
  25. ^ Ingolf Kühn, Stefan Klotz: Floristic status and alien species. In: Series of publications for vegetation science. 38 (2002), pp. 47–56.
  26. ^ Harshberger, John William: The vegetation of the New Jersey pine-barrens, an ecologic investigation, Philadelphia: Christopher Sower Company, 1869–1929
  27. ^ Tim Low: Feral Future. The Untold Story of Australia's Exotic Invaders, p. 73
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Escaped plant
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