Invasive Beefsteak

Beefsteak plant, Lancaster County, September 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a pretty plant, an invasive alien, that I’ve not seen in Pittsburgh but is easy to find in Lancaster County, PA where I took this picture.

Beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens) is a member of the mint family native to Southeast Asia and the Indian highlands and is grown as a crop for Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine. Its common names include shiso and Korean perilla. The “beefsteak” name was coined because the darkest varieties have leaves as red as meat. The wild plants I saw in Lancaster County had green leaves and dark red stems.

Perilla frutescens is widely cultivated in Asia as an edible plant but it has downsides including contact dermatitis from touching the leaves and anaphylaxis after consuming a large amount of seeds. Those who cultivate it know what to do but the rest of us should be cautious.

Brought to the U.S. as an ornamental beefsteak plant escaped to the wild and is now invasive in six states from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. The plant is always toxic to cattle, horses and other ruminants including white-tailed deer.

States listing Perilla frutescens as invasive (map from

Since deer don’t eat it, it may have been touted as a “deer resistant” plant at the nursery but don’t buy it! This plant spreads way too easily.

(credits are in the captions with links where applicable)

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