Kudzu

Kudzu blanketing a forest

Kudzu (Pueraria montana) blanketing a forest.
U.S. Forest Service photo by Kerry Britton

While kudzu may seem as Southern as Georgia peaches or Florida oranges, this invasive vine was actually introduced to the United States. Originally from East Asia, kudzu was brought to the U.S. as an ornamental plant in the nineteenth century. For many years, it was even planted to control erosion. Only after it started choking out whole stands of trees did people realize it might not have been such a good idea.

This invasive vine has taken over entire tracts of land seemingly overnight. Kudzu, Pueraria montana, smothers all other vegetation around, including tall trees. This aggressive vine grows over anything in its path—from mature trees to road signs and buildings, kudzu smothers it all. It can grow up to a foot a day, eventually reaching a hundred feet tall, and has tuberous roots and dark brown, rope-like, hairy stems.

With kudzu, total eradication is necessary to prevent regrowth. A number of chemicals can be used to control kudzu, but most homeowners use non-selective products containing glyphosate. Herbicide treatments will likely need to be repeated until acceptable control is achieved.

One of the abilities of kudzu that helps it thrive also makes application of herbicides difficult. Each leaf on a kudzu vine is able to orient itself so that the maximum amount of sunlight possible is absorbed. The resulting multidirectional orientation of leaves can make it difficult to sufficiently wet the top of every leaf with herbicide.

The complications with using herbicide may motivate you to attempt control through mechanical methods. You can cut back young colonies of kudzu repeatedly during the hottest days of summer. Doing this may enable you to eradicate a young stand in three to four years.

Older colonies of kudzu are harder to control and take longer to completely eradicate. You can determine the age of a kudzu colony by looking at the root crowns, the top of the primary root. It is usually best to evaluate kudzu colony age during the winter when vines and foliage are less robust. Root crowns that are 2 inches or larger in diameter indicate a colony that is at least 10 years old.

You can help prevent reestablishment of kudzu in a cleared area by replanting with more desirable, non-invasive plants after treatment.

Today kudzu covers about two million acres in the South and has been found throughout Florida. While this vine has been able to thrive in in unattended areas, you can do your part and keep kudzu off your property. With time, kudzu can be removed from an area and desired vegetation will be able to thrive.

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