Kudzu Vine

Kudzu Vine (Pueraria lobata)

Not familiar with Kudzu?  If I said that it's often referred to as the Foot-a-Night Vine would that be an indication that you don't want this anywhere on your property or community?

Introduced to the United States in 1876 from southeast Asia, China and Japan, it was touted as the miracle plant. Not only was it to be a great ornamental plant, it was also a foraging crop that would also control soil erosion. Being sold in the States, the southeast provided a better growing environment for kudzu than native lands. This, partly because the weeds natural enemies weren't brought over with it. Because of this it is also known as The Vine That Ate The South.

This weed has had devastating environmental consequences.

Photo: James K. York

It's growth outpaces the use of herbicides and mowing, increasing already out of control costs to eradicate it.

Although kudzu prefers warm, moist climates it adapts to any environment and soil type. It is now growing in the mid-Atlantic region and is making it's way up to the northern United States.

This weed is the Fabaceae (pea) family. The Genus Pueraria, which consists of 17 species, can grow as perennials or annuals, evergreens or deciduous, depending on location. Pueraria lobata is a deciduous perennial vine that starts from large starchy tuber that also spreads by seed, runners and rhizomes.

The semi-woody vines have alternating leaves, called a palmate leaf. A palmate leaf is a leaf that resembles an open hand or one with lobes that radiate from a common point, or in this case a small branch. Each small branch has 3 leaflets on it. The center leaf is symmetrical, with the outside 2 leaves looking like mittens. The leaves grow up to 6 inches long and the underside has hair on it.

Flowers have a fragrant smell that is similar to grapes. Blooms cluster in late summer through fall and are small, purple and pea-like.

Helping the weed expand is a thin and winding structure called a tendril. The tendril attaches to anything for propagation. Growing upward, weed will cover and suppress other vegetation by prohibiting sunlight from getting through.

Vines also produce green seed pods. Pods have hair covering them, giving the pod a brownish-green color. Inside the flat pod are up to 10 hard seeds. After shedding seeds, pods turn brown.

Photo: Jack Schiffer

During one growing season a vine can grow 60 feet averaging one foot of growth in twenty-four hours. One vine can ultimately grow as long as 100 feet which is why it takes an average of 4 years to kill, sometimes even up to 10 years to eradicate. Unfortunately by this time more vine has taken root.

The root system is what needs to be destroyed, but this is where the problem lies. This vine stems from tubers that create fleshy taproots at least 7 inches in diameter, at least 6 feet in length and can weigh up to 400 pounds. Multiply this out to as many as 30 vines growing from one tuber.

Kudzu produces so many tubers that attempting to dig all of them out is difficult, and it is highly unlikely of getting them all. The vine has a resistance to herbicides, some actually stimulating the weed to grow more. What has proven to work is biological methods of extermination.

Biological methods - sounds quite technological where micro-organisms are developed to get the job done. In this case biological methods translates to... Get a Goat! Yup, the Angora goat was found to be the key with helping eradicate this massive weed as discovered by researchers at Alabama's Tuskegee University.

Not only are goats helping, but people in the south are dealing with the kudzu vine by creating a cottage industry around it.  Examples are baskets, creative looking paper, food recipes and now kudzu is being used in medical research.

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