INVASIVE SPECIES WATCHLIST: KUDZU

Some find it incredible, others call it a disaster, but either way Kudzu, a creeping, crawling, climbing perennial vine is terrorizing native plants all over the southeastern United States and is making its way north.

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Kudzu is an invasive species that is native to Japan and southeast China.  It made its way into the United States in 1876 during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where people from everywhere gazed at its sweet smelling blossoms, large leaves and sturdy vines, being sold as an ornamental and great foraging plant for the backyard.  From the 1930’s through the following twenty years the Soil Conservation Service promoted Kudzu as a tool for battling soil erosion in the south.  In retrospect, we never thought it would take over the way it has, growing over everything in its path.

Sure it looks like a beautiful vine that anyone would want crawling the side of their home, but this semi-woody vine grows out of control quickly, spreading through runners, which are stems that root at the tip when in contact with soil.  It also spreads rapidly through rhizomes, and by vines that root at the nodes to form new plants.  It can also reproduce through seeds, although not as quickly as the other methods.  Once it has been established, kudzu can grow anywhere from one foot per day with mature vines as long as 100 feet! It can easily overtake trees, homes, cars and even telephone poles.

kudzu-map.pngThis species is making its way north rapidly and is close to breaking through Indiana’s border, if it hasn’t already.  It out-grows and out-competes native plants, ruining  whole forests in its wake, forming dense mats.  Some of the best ways to control it if it has been established is through repeated mowing and grazing.  Cattle and goats both love it and the continued grazing weakens the vine system and eventually can help regain control over the species.  If you don’t have cattle and your in search of another control method there are multiple herbicides that can be used to manage kudzu, though results vary and applications generally have to be repeated multiple times.  The best time to apply the herbicides is late summer to early fall, when the plants are most susceptible to transferring the chemicals into storage organs, making them more effective.

Though it has not made its great presence known in Michigan yet, the possibility continues to increase, especially as the climate gets warmer.  As someone who loves the great out doors, this vine makes me extremely nervous for Michigan’s vast forests, and the potential effects that could occur due to this species.  It’s times like these, where prevention is our best tool, and we must keep an eye out for kudzu.  Protecting Michigan’s wildlife habitats is essential, not just for the wildlife itself but Michigan’s economy could take a serious hit from this plant.  The hunting and fishing industries combined bring in over $4 billion in trip related expenditures, while the forest industry generates over $16 billion annually in revenue for the state.  All of those could see potential impacts if this plant makes it into Michigan.  As great outdoor enthusiasts its our job to help step in and protect the things we love, so when your out in the woods hunting, or on the shores fishing, if you see any signs of Kudzu its best to report it to the DNR Wildlife Division to Sue Tangora at tangoras@michigan.gov or call (517) 420-0128. Lets continue to keep Michigan free of Kudzu!

 

This article is part of the ongoing series on invasive species funded in part with funds from the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program through the Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, and Agriculture and Rural Development.

1 Comment

  1. Mary Sedlecky on May 18, 2018 at 12:13 am

    I am pretty sure We have this growing in my backyard… I would not mind if a little of it climbed up my fence, but it comes up from underground to areas 3-5 ft away from the fence, and it’s tendrils wrap around all my perennial plants that I have growing along the fence. I have an ornamental tree back there, and it just comes over the top of it and covers it up like a wig… I spent hours trying to dig it up early in the soring before it even started popping up, thought I got a good deal of the white snake-like roots dug up, was hopeful that maybe this summer it wouldn’t get so out of control, but my efforts wee in vain , as it is overtaking everything again. When I read about it in the article, that it can grow as much as a foot a day, my heart is just sinking, because we have a lot of visitors over to our backyard , as there is an in-ground pool, and I like to keep it looking nice back there, but once again , I will be spending most of my time pulling out this beast, instead of enjoying my pool and laying in the sun. At least I can still listen to some music while I am working ! Ugh!!

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