Invasive plants are one of the greatest threats to endangered insect species and a major threat to Lepidoptera in eastern North America. We investigated the effects of the invasive shrub Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) and two methods (mulching or hand-felling) of removing it from riparian forests on butterfly communities and compared them to untreated, heavily invaded control plots and to ‘‘desired future condition’’ forests that never had extensive privet cover. Privet mulching resulted in nearly twice as many butterflies as privet felling and both treatments had more butterflies two years after privet removal than untreated control plots. Butterfly communities on control plots differed from those on the two treatments and the desired future condition forests. A number of forest characteristics were evaluated but only herbaceous plant cover (excluding privet) was positively correlated with butterfly abundance, diversity and evenness. The Carolina satyr, Hermeuptychia sosybius, was the best indicator of forests where privet had never invaded. Removing Chinese privet from riparian forests in the southeastern United States greatly improved forest habitats for butterflies and evidence suggests that butterfly communities in other temperate forests could benefit from removal of extensive shrub layers dominated by a single species.