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Privets are a group of bushes and small trees that comprise the genus Ligustrum. These members of the olive family (Oleaceae) grow rapidly and are generally simple to cultivate, characteristics that render several species of the plants popular as hedges.
Privets are also desirable for their pleasant appearance, which is highlighted by dark green leaves and numerous panicles of fragrant white flowers that appear late in the spring. The greatest variety of privets are native to Asia, though some species are indigenous to Europe, Australia, and the Mediterranean. Around 50 species in all are classified as privets, some of which are deciduous and others of which are evergreens.
In some areas where certain privet species have been introduced, the plants have become very troublesome. In America, for instance, privets have begun invading a number of parks, forests, and wilderness areas, where they displace indigenous flora. The problem is exacerbated by the remarkable capacity of privets for extracting nutrients and water from the soil, which renders replanting many other types of plants in the area difficult even after invasive privets have been removed.
Most privets naturally grow to heights of about fifteen feet, but the plants are very tolerant of pruning. In fact, three species of privet, L. ovaliform, L. vulgare, and L. sinense, respond so well to heavy pruning that they are commonly employed for bonsai, an art form practiced in China since at least the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Bonsai involves aesthetically miniaturizing trees or shrubs through a gradual process of pruning and branch training.
Nathan S. Claxton, Shannon H. Neaves, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.