THE Woodland Trust is urging gardeners not to buy rhododendron ponticum due to it “destroying” native wildlife.

As well as carrying a deadly tree disease the popular plant is known as an “invasive species” which can wipe out huge swathes of native woodland plants.

The Trust spent £360,000 over the past year on invasive plant control, which includes removing rhododendron which spreads fast and crowds out other plants.

Imported rhododendron plants carry a strong risk of arriving with the deadly disease Phytophthora ramorum, which can be fatal to more than 150 plant species.

In the UK, the control programme for this disease has resulted in large scale felling of larch plantations which harms the timber industry. 

Rebecca Gosling, a tree disease expert at the Woodland Trust, said: “Rhododendron ponticum is a real problem for the UK’s native plants and trees.

“It is choking native woodland and shading out characteristic plants, including in important temperate rainforests which cover just 1% of land in the UK. 

“Action must be taken to protect further species and habitats from the same fate. Increased trade and the growing impacts of climate change furthers the likelihood of new species introductions.

“As a top five driver of biodiversity decline, the Government must treat invasive non- native species as a priority issue.

“A failure to get a grip on these and the pressure this places on struggling wildlife populations, will also make it harder to meet nature recovery targets and halt the decline in species abundance by 2030.”

The Trust is now asking the public to help protect native wildlife by not buying and not planting rhododendron ponticum.