February 26, 2007


The Queen of Kudzu
The Vine That Ate the South

The photo above was taken at my Alabama counsin's home . Crawling across the telephone wire above my head is Kudzu, a vine that can grow up to 100 feet in a season. It has covered 7 million acres in the South and costs around a $1,000 an acre to control.

I recently learned that it's reached 22 counties in Illinois. Yikes ! I hope I didn't bring it with me when I came up here. Kudzu is such a part of Southern culture that we've resigned ourselves to living with it. " Don't leave your car parked there too long my dear , or you won't be able to find it when you get back, " is a common joke. Or folks would go on vacation and when they came back they found their house completely encased in kudzu.

Kudzu was brought to America by the Japanese in 1876 in celebration of America's 100th birthday in the Philadelphia Centennial. American gardeners were attracted to its large leaves and fragrant flowers. It was touted as a prevention for erosion as well.

The Southern climate was the problem - everything grows well there and the Kudzu vine took off like " greased lightning " . Those resigned to live with it have taken to making baskets, jelly, syrup, paper and hay . The Chinese have used it for more than 2,ooo years as an herbal medicine and the Koreans and Japanese make tofu, drinks and other products from it.

Most herbicides have no effect on Kudzu. Goats, who'll eat any and everything , were brought in to eradicate the vine and this has worked well in some cases. Farmers also cut and bale it for hay . The most promising control so far is from North Carolina State University who may have found a way to defoliate and kill it. They take a soybean looper caterpillar larvae, inject them with a stingless wasp larvae and then the action begins. The caterpillars eat the kudzu, then the wasps inside the caterpillars hatch and eat the caterpillars from within, killing them before they can turn into moths and eat the crops nearby. The caterpillars also ate twice as much as normal.Brilliant !

We have a saying that " a good attitude is like Kuzu- it spreads. " More later on invasive plants and how they affects us .

1 comment:

  1. Oh, no - not all the way to Illinois! We used to see Kudzu whenever we traveled south from the Chicago area, and since we moved to Austin, we've seen it when traveling in the states east of here. I haven't heard that it's a problem around Central Texas - maybe our off/on drought is good for something - kudzu likes water!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose


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