The Killer Kudzu

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Anyone driving through the southern states, and now up through the southeastern portions of Pennsylvania, will be shocked and saddened by the devastation reeked along roadways and forests by the plant Kudzu. I just recently made a trip from Las Vegas to Philadelphia before the Christmas holidays and could not believe my eyes in what has happened in the space of just two years since I'd made the previous trip!    

Trees standing like ghoulish sentinels, hung with strangling vines and broken to the ground. Some century trees literally covered with Kudzu so that a person could no longer identify the tree. Kudzu left unchecked had irrevocably changed the countryside. We can replant, it's true, but not with 200-year-old trees.  

So what is this murderous thing? It's a huge ecological threat, which kills or degrades other plants by smothering them under a solid blanket of leaves, by girdling woody stems and tree trunks, and by breaking branches or uprooting entire trees and shrubs through the sheer force of its weight.    

Once established, Kudzu plants grow rapidly, extending as much as 60 feet per season at a rate of about one foot per day. This vigorous vine may extend 32-100 feet in length, with stems ½-4 inches in diameter. Kudzu roots are fleshy, with massive tap roots seven inches or more in diameter, six feet or more in length, and weighing as much as 400 pounds. As many as thirty vines may grow from a single root crown.  

As I take the train along the commute corridor from Downingtown to Philadelphia, I see nothing but dead trees far beyond saving. Their debris litters the ground and tracks and people I speak with on the street or on the trains are unaware of what is killing their trees! They blame the trains, "some disease," or the age of the trees. They have not been made aware of this plant or the dangers of planting it. They put it in as a ground cover, not knowing that in the space of five to ten years it can totally destroy their property as well as neighboring properties.  

I spoke with the forestry service and asked why nothing was being done to remove this plant or at least halt the growth of it until it could be eradicated safely. I was told that it was cost prohibitive to try and fight it. We can afford to fight Iraqi insurgents, but not save our own country from mass erosion apparently.  

I then spoke with the forestry service in Mississippi, one of the worst hit states, and they were receptive to someone actually caring about this issue. I told them of my intent – to use my blog to make people aware of the killer and hopefully, once I learn how, to create a petition for people to sign and send to Washington.  

People can stop this thing from destroying our beautiful countryside. If each person were to take care of their own individual properties and fought this plant, that would be a good start against it spreading as quickly. Each one teaches one, so to speak. Like Mother Teresa said; "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." To wait on things in this case could mean the loss of forests and woods, having our land look like a nuclear accident took place. Without exaggeration, much of it does already. 

That's not to say we could win. The government will eventually have to put their money to work to fix the public lands and I'm sure the lumber companies might even get their support (and funding) behind them.    

There are easier and less expensive ways of controlling this problem. The use of livestock has already been proven helpful to control and eliminate some pockets of the vine growth. Another is to use our human resources by bringing people in from welfare programs and giving them a wage rather than a handout. Using volunteers is another way to go. I know I would certainly volunteer my services if there were a program in effect.

With any luck we may see more people becoming more aware of our land being quickly decimated by a single plant! There are two good books available on the subject right now: Kudzu in America by Juanitta Baldwin, and Kudzu: The Vine to Love or Hate, also by Juanitta Baldwin with Diane Hoots. 

I am so hoping my meager start here will eventually lead to the end of the problem. If anyone has any suggestions as to what we might do to rid ourselves of this vine once and for all, I sure would be interested in hearing from you.

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About This End Up

  • catherine d’medici

    I have heard that goats love Kudzu. It’s like ice cream to them. Get them goats out there! Maybe some enterprising spirit could make a mint on Kudzu Goat cheese….

  • Jim C.

    There’s nothing better than sweet milk from cows that graze on kudzu. They have to move fast, though.

  • Nancy

    The state of Georgia – & I believe S.C. – have started leasing herds of goats to eat the kudzu beside the highways, especially where the sides are too steep or rocky for mowers to go. Goats do indeed eat kudzu – they love it – and a small herd can clear 1/4 acre a day. There’s some money waiting to be made there to those maintaining & leasing goats to the states for kudzu control.

  • Donnie Marler

    Wasn’t kudzu first brought over by the state governments to fight erosion?
    It’s certainly wreaking havoc thoughout the southland.

  • In answer to Donnie Marler;
    Yes, in a way. It was apparently brought to America by Japanese gardeners who used it as a ground cover for people who had acreage. Pretty, fast-growing & no maintainence. Once the government got wind of this thing, they saw potential for it on slopes & highway medians without checking out it’s voracious appetite for space. In the early years botanists warned them repeatedly of it’s insatiable activities, but it all fell on deaf ears.
    Someone suggested we should try smoking it to see if it gives a buzz; you could be sure the government would jump on clearing it off then!

    To Nancy; I’m so glad to hear that someone has taken some steps. I do know goats & cows both love the stuff but I think cows might be a tad cumbersome near roadways. =)
    We’ve just bought a piece of land which backs on to woods. It’s just starting there now so we’re getting it early. And we’ve also educated our neighbors to it’s undesirable nature & they are clearing their property as well. Small corners of the world, to be sure, but if we each took care of our own corner, it’s a beginning.

  • Nancy

    Ginger, buy you a couple or three of goats; that way you keep your property cleared & get the byproducts of milk/dairy & garden compost at the same time. If you get a few more, you can also perhaps interest the highway people in them. I’m serious.

    There’s a woman in … Wisconsin or Minnesota, I’m trying to remember … who owns a couple hundred, and leases them out big time. I’ll try to google it.

  • Nancy, I’m very interested. If you can get that info for me I will be eternally greatful. I’ve always wanted an excuse to have a couple of goats; that could work.~*wink*~
    Thanks to all for their suggestions.

  • Nancy

    A friend of mine who has goats advises (wisely) that before you acquire any, you visit someone in the area who has them already, hang around with them (the owner & the goats) to see if you can stand them (the goats), etc. Like any pet they DO require cleanup, vetting, milking, & petting. Goats are pretty smart critters, very affectionate, and have their own opinions. Meanwhile I’ll look for that info. You might want to start with the local 4-H or a large-animal vet in your area. The Dept. of Agriculture here in DC also will send you literature of all kinds if you write to them.

  • Well, things are moving along well now. I can’t edit my own post, so I’ve opted to add a ‘comment’ in order to get the address of my petition out to everyone.

    Anyone wanting to sign may go here & do so. You know I appreciate your efforts. That address is:- Kudzu Petition

    Let’s try & get rid of this before it overtakes the entire country. There are now warnings out in Illinois, along with bans on the purchase of it. Posters also have been put up to make people aware of what to look for & what to do.

    I’m getting some help at last…

  • another Nancy

    I can’t see the forest for the Kudzu