• biological invasion;
  • local adaptation;
  • natural enemy;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • plant defence

This study presents an updated analysis of the relative generality of invasion mechanisms in invasive plants. We categorised eight invasion mechanisms into three classes, according to the ecological processes behind the invasions: physical environment mechanisms (phenotypic plasticity in environmental tolerance and evolutionary adaptation to physical environment), resource use mechanisms (resource competition, resource utilisation and allelopathy) and enemy release mechanisms (high growth/reproduction rate, evolutionarily increased competitive ability and phenotypic plasticity in resource allocation). An analysis of 133 invasive plant species in the literature showed the enemy release mechanisms are equally general as resource use mechanisms, while the physical environment mechanisms are less general. Among the eight specific invasion mechanisms, phenotypic plasticity (either in resource allocation or in environmental tolerance), allelopathy, evolutionarily increased competitive ability and high resource-use efficiency are fairly common. Furthermore, chemical defence behaviour is very common in plant invaders. Species invading through enemy release were more likely to originate from Europe and those invading through resource competition/utilisation were often native to tropical and North America and Asia. Invaders with allelopathy were more likely to be from tropical and North America and those showing evolutionarily increased competitive ability were often native to temperate regions such as Europe and North America. Collectively, phenotypic plasticity, defence strategy and native status can be used not only to predict a plant’s invasiveness, but also for identifying the potential invasion mechanisms.