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.