A privet is a flowering plant in the genus Ligustrum. The genus contains about 50 species of erect, deciduous or evergreen shrubs, sometimes forming small or medium-sized trees,[1] native to Europe, north Africa, Asia, many introduced and naturalised in Australasia, where only one species extends as a native into Queensland.[2] Some species have become widely naturalized or invasive where introduced. Privet was originally the name for the European semi-evergreen shrub Ligustrum vulgare, and later also for the more reliably evergreen Ligustrum ovalifolium used extensively for privacy hedging, though now the name is applied to all members of the genus. The generic name was applied by Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) to L. vulgare.[3] It is often suggested that the name privet is related to private, but the OED states that there is no evidence to support this.[4]

Ligustrum vulgare
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Oleaceae
Tribe: Oleeae
Subtribe: Ligustrinae
Genus: Ligustrum

See text


Privet is a group of shrubs and small trees of southern and eastern Asia, from the Himalayas extending into Australia. They may be evergreen or deciduous, and are tolerant of different soil types. They often have conspicuous heads of white flower.[5] followed by black berries.

Uses and cultivation

In addition to being cultivated to create ornamental hedges and foliage, privet is also widely used in horticulture and flower arrangements.[6] The Oval leaf privet Ligustrum ovalifolium is used for hedges, while its flexible twigs are sometimes used as cords for lashing.[6] The tree species, especially Chinese privet is frequently used as a street tree in Europe, while other species including Ligustrum japonicum and Ligustrum quihoui are among the others also sometimes used as ornamental plants in gardens.[7] Privet became very popular in Britain as a replacement for ornamental railings around properties, which had been lost to the 1941 Government compulsorily requisitioning of all post-1850 iron gates and railings for the war effort [8] the idea being that the donated metal would be melted down for use in the manufacture of armaments in WWII, although this ultimately did not happen.[9] The remaining stubbs of sawn-off railings can still be seen on many garden walls in the UK, often partly obscured by privet bushes.

Chinese privet is used in traditional herbal medicine.[10] The decoction of privet leaves or bark helps to treat diarrhea, stomach ulcers, chronic bowel problems, chapped lips, sore mouths and throats, and a wash for skin problems.[10] Privet leaves and bark have bitter properties that make a useful tea for improving appetite and digestion in chemotherapy patients.[10]

Some species produce a fruit, which is mildly toxic to humans.[6][11] Symptoms from eating privet fruit include nausea, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, low blood pressure, and low body temperature.[6] At least some privet species are known to be toxic to horses. [12]


A plant may produce thousands of fruits, most of which are eaten by birds. Privet is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the common emerald, common marbled carpet, copper underling, engrailed, mottled beauty, scalloped hazel, small angle shades, v-pug, privet hawk moth and willow beauty.


Privet is a successful invasive species because of its ability to outcompete and therefore displace native vegetation, due to its adaptability. Various species are now a problem in North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Additional information

Privet (translated into German as Liguster) is a core part of Michael Frayn's novel Spies, which was published in 2002. In the Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling, the Dursley family lives at #4 Privet Drive. In the German translation, they live on Liguster Weg.

Selected species

The Integrated Taxonomic Information System lists eleven "accepted" species of Ligustrum.[13] Additional species are listed in other references.[14][15][16]


  1. Webb, C. J.; Sykes, W. R.; Garnock-Jones, P. J. 1988: Flora of New Zealand. Vol. IV. Naturalised Pteridophytes, Gymnosperms, Dicotyledons. 4. Christchurch, New Zealand, Botany Division, D.S.I.R..
  2. RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
  3. Foster, Steven; Rebecca Johnson (2008). National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine. National Geographic Books. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-4262-0293-3.
  4. "privet, n.1". Oxford English Dictionary.
  5. The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs.
  6. Urbatch, L. "Chinese Privet: Plant Guide" (PDF). USDA and NRCS. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  7. European Garden Flora. 4 (2 ed.).
  8. "Railings".
  9. "So What Really Happened to our Railings?".
  10. National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  11. "Plants for a Future".
  12. "Nine poisonous plants horses should avoid".
  13. "ITIS Standard Report Page - Ligustrum". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 20 June 2011.
  14. Flora of China: Ligustrum
  15. Flora of Taiwan: Ligustrum Archived 22 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  16. Flora Europaea: Ligustrum
  17. Hyland, B. P. M.; Whiffin, T.; Zich, F. A.; et al. (December 2010). "Factsheet – Ligustrum australianum". Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants. Edition 6.1, online version [RFK 6.1]. Cairns, Australia: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), through its Division of Plant Industry; the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research; the Australian Tropical Herbarium, James Cook University. Retrieved 27 June 2013.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
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