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.
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.
This 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.