Native plants replacing Chinese privet in Maryville College Woods

Native plants replacing Chinese privet in Maryville College Woods

By Amy Beth Miller, The Daily Times – Reprinted with permission
*This story originally appeared in The Daily Times on Feb. 22, 2020 

Recent rains made Saturday a perfect time to pull invasive Chinese privet from an acre in the Maryville College Woods and replace it with three native plant species.

About 25 volunteers including students, faculty and community members pitched in for about three hours to continue work that is part of a 100-year plan for the 140 acres that compose more than half the MC campus.

A $500 riparian restoration grant from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency funded the work along Duncan Branch, allowing the college to buy 25 seedlings each of persimmon, buttonbush and indigobush from the Tennessee Division of Forestry.

The seedlings will grow to 10 to 20 feet and provide fruit and cover for wildlife, according to Drew Crain, a biology professor at Maryville College.

“All kinds of birds and butterflies are attracted to the flowers and fruit,” he said.

Invasive exotic

Crain called Chinese privet “one of the worst invasive exotics,” and said it was originally planted as part of a botanical garden on the campus in 1935.

Removing privet from the zone along Duncan Branch from the amphitheater to Brown Creek is a priority under a forest stewardship plan that the state Forestry Division developed for the college in 2013, according to Crain.

“It’s impossible to get 100% eradication,” he said. “We’re slowly making a dent in it.”

The privet pulled last week will be shredded, and then the chips used to stabilize trails in the area.

“It is a win-win situation,” Crain said.

Saturday’s work marked the first planting under the stewardship program. Next month they will plant eight pawpaw trees, which Crain said weren’t available through the state.

Students of Crain and associate professor David Unger have been working in the woods for several years, including studying the most efficient way to remove privet. A mattock was too labor-intensive, Crain said.

This time the volunteers used lever-based tools on loan from Ijams Nature Center that worked so well Crain plans to buy some for the college. 

Salamander surprise

Samantha Stacey, a freshman biology major who led the effort to recruit volunteers, was surprised by the amount of privet. “There are huge patches of it,” she said.

Stacey also found something unexpected in the mud, a spring salamander.

Crain said that species wasn’t known to live in the Maryville College Woods. “It’s the biggest larval spring salamander I’ve ever seen,” he said, about 5 inches long with external gills still visible.

“Prior to this the only two salamanders that we had identified in the Maryville College Woods were the northern slimy salamander and the southern two-lined salamander,” he explained.

According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, spring salamanders are “reasonably common” in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The larval stage can last three to five years, and they grow to be up to 8.2 inches long.


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”