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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kudzu - the vine that ate the South

I'm house/pet sitting for some friends for three weeks. They live on a beautifully wooded hillside that I'm itching to landscape but in the untended areas in their neighborhood, we have this -



I took this photo while walking Emmie (who you can see at the end of this post). This field is right next door to their house and extends down to the river. Unless you live in the south, you might not recognize Kudzu (Pueraria lobata), or as many people call it "the vine that ate the south".

I was reading a rather serious, scientific website and was amused when I came across this statement about caring for it: "Mulch with cinder blocks, fertilize with Agent Orange, and prune daily." hehe

Of course, no one in their right mind would be growing kudzu in their garden (or anywhere near their property) but, believe it or not, people once did. The plant is native to China and Japan and its appearance in this country came about in 1876 when it was introduced at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and promoted as a garden ornamental! It took off, literally, and hasn't stopped since, swallowing over 7 million acres across the southeast. Apparently, the southern climate is ideal for kudzu and it grows better here than it does in its native country. It can easily grow one foot per day and over 100 feet in a year.



Kudzu's overly aggressive nature is damaging and destructive. It will quickly overtake trees, power lines and anything in its path. Scientists continue to study ways to eradicate it. A few years ago the city of Chattanooga started using goats to eat the stuff. I could not find an update on this so I'm not sure if this preventive measure worked. Goats and cows do love to eat it and it was first marketed as a food source for livestock.

Kudzu did have a lot of help in getting established in this country. During the Depression, the Soil Conservation Department promoted kudzu as a means of controlling erosion. The Civilian Conservation Corps put hundreds of men to work planting it and farmers were paid to plant fields of it. Smart!

It didn't take too long for the country to change its tune and in 1953, the U.S. government stopped recommending it and in 1972, it was classified as an invasive weed. This came much to the chagrin of one Channing Cope of Covington, Georgia, kudzu's most vocal advocate. Cope started the erosion control hoopla when we wrote glowing articles on kudzu for the Atlanta Constitution and promoted it on his own radio broadcast. In Cope's defense, kudzu does prevent erosion, but using it is kind of like setting your garden on fire to get rid of the weeds.

Kudzu can also be used for making baskets, soaps, candles, paper, etc. It is said to have medicinal qualities as well and is rumored to ease hangovers and help cure alcoholism and high blood pressure.

It is also a food source. Kudzu Tea can be made from either the leaves or the roots. Kudzu jelly is another goodie. - jelly The roots contain starch and it is used in many Asian dishes.

One nice thing about kudzu is the fragrance which smells just like grape soda. So, since we have the stuff, we might as well do something with it. I don't think many people around here use it that much though.

So, if you are driving through the south and see those creepy fields of vines, you'll know what it is.




Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

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21 comments:

  1. In South Africa we have the Port Jackson willow. A wattle/acacia imported from Australia to control the drifting sand on the Cape Flats. Now there is so much housing that the drifting sand and the rare endangered plants that once lived there are almost a memory. PJ can also be used as fodder and craft material. But, it blazes up in a wild fire!

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  2. Years ago, my sister bought a house on a gently sloping lot in Atlanta. The downhill backyard was covered in Kudzu....many feet thick. She hired a crew to pull it all out....and found a 10x10 utility shed that no one had known was there. :)

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  3. If you drive up through Raleigh on Hwy 40 from the NC coast, you're basically driving through walls of kudzu. Trees and roadsides are blanketed. Because I don't have a kudzu problem on my own property, I actually think it looks kind of neat. Like Middle Earth or something.

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  4. Kudzu is a scourge. I hope it never figures out how to live up North. Cute puppy, like the smile.

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  5. The kudzu is terrifying but Emmie is adorable.

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  6. I didn't have to be told I was looking at kudzu when driving down South several years ago. It is a living nightmare. Emmie on the other hand is a cute little sausage.

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  7. We have Kudzu at the entrance to our neighborhood and I hate it. As you say, it grows on just about anything. A guy wire supporting a telephone pole both now have it to contend with.

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  8. It is horrible, but it creates some great photo ops. I am holding onto some shots of an abandoned house being eaten by Kudzu. They may be appropriate for Halloween. I hope you held tight to Emmie's leash; she could get seriously lost among those vines.

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  9. Thanks God, I haven't seen anything like that here in Croatia. But we too have some imported species that overgrow large areas of domestic vegetation. One of them is Echinocystit lobata that came from America.
    Anyway, this kudzu is nice looking plant, I mean, nice flowers and leaves... if only would not be so invasive.

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  10. Here, there and everywhere.

    Actually, I'm fortunate not to have it on our property or in our neighborhood.

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  11. I've seen it all over Tennessee. I read once where researchers were experimenting with making biofeuls from it. That would be much smarter than using corn since corn is a food product for animals and people. Then we would be killing two birds with one stone - fuel issues and an invasive plant!

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  12. Phillip, fortunately we have been spared kudzu, but we do have our share of other not so wonderful things such as crown vetch (that can never be gotten rid of) and Scotch broom, not to mention the infamous Blackberry vine which is rampant throughout our countryside... but many environmentalist here believe in the au natural kind of landscaping.

    Best of luck with getting the landscaping.

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  13. I was looking at Plant Delights Nursery for a vine for my space left from the Lady Banks removal. Can you believe that Tony is selling a variegated kudzu! I'm too afraid of that!

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  14. I am thrilled to NOT have this invasive to contend with...the honeysuckle, vinca and euonymous are enough trouble! I bet goats would take care of it! The pup is a cutie pie! gail

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  15. My aunt calls it the cancer plant. I'm inclined to agree. It is quite a pretty vine. But I could do without it's looks. Interestingly enough, it's another vine I'm having issues with. Scuppernong Grapes. They are growing wild behind my shed. I keep digging it all up, but to no avail. It grows back exponentily every year. Maybe I need to just start making wine.
    ~Randy

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  16. That stuff is amazing. Amazing in how fast it grows. It's such a shame to see it taking over whole forests. I'd be scared to live across the street from that! I like the idea of using it as a biofuel though.

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  17. Love the way you've gathered all the Kudzu stories together, Phillip - I first saw it in Tennessee over 40 years ago, and remember that hopeful story about goats eating it. Wonder what happened?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  18. In Delaware we have the same problem. It`s to much of them.

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  19. Great case example of how invasive foreign plants can get! I had a similar problem with morning glory in my garden, it nearly choked a couple trees before I could rip it all out!

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  20. I didn't realize there were actually some legitimate 'uses' for this invasive vine. That's the only plus on its side;-) Otherwise, it was so unfortunate that our govt. was actually promoting this thud. Live and learn, I guess...

    And the little hot dog? How adorable! We have a weeny too...a miniature dachshund...and we just love her to pieces!!! Such great dogs, at least ours is;-)

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