They don’t call it the vine that ate the South for nothing. Kudzu has a big reputation, but how much do you really know about it? You can't drive a mile in the South without spying a curtain of kudzu, so learn a little about this invasive species so that you have a few fun plant facts to share the next time you catch a glimpse of the notorious vine.
It’s an invasive plant in the American South.
What we know as kudzu (Pueraria montana) was brought from Asia to the U.S. in the late 19th century. It was planted with the idea that it could be a solution for soil erosion, but its aggressive spread has proven to be a growing problem rather than an ecological solution, and it’s considered an invasive species in the South.
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It was planted widely in the 1930s and 1940s.
After the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, people began to promote kudzu as a fix for erosion and nutrient-poor soils. The Soil Conservation Service was established in the U.S. and, according to The New Georgia Encyclopedia, it promoted the propagation of kudzu (and the planting of around 500,000 acres of the vine) throughout Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama.
Kudzu can grow at the rate of one foot per day.
All total, kudzu has the ability to spread up to 60 feet per growing season. One root can produce many vines, all of which creep outward—horizontally and vertically—clinging and climbing and creating curtains of kudzu. Because of this, kudzu growth can be problematic for other plants too. Kudzu spreads over the landscape and creates a thick carpet that smothers neighboring plants and trees, shielding them from the sunlight they need to thrive.
Kudzu’s nitrogen fixing characteristics can be problematic.
Kudzu has the ability to cycle nitrogen through the soil and the air at a rate higher than many other plants, and research has found that nitrogen rates are higher in areas where kudzu is plentiful. According to research published in 2010 (Hickman et al.), “Kudzu (Pueraria montana) invasion doubles emissions of nitric oxide and increases ozone pollution.” Increased nitrogen emissions are connected to higher rates of pollution, which can have a negative impact on the atmosphere.
In the 1970s, kudzu was labeled a weed.
While it was planted widely in the middle of the 20th century, just a few decades later kudzu was considered a plant pest of the highest proportions. According to The New Georgia Encyclopedia, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture removed kudzu from its list of acceptable cover crops for its Agricultural Conservation Program in the 1950s, and in 1972 it demoted the plant to weed status.” That's how it's known today as it continues to spread across the Southern landscape.
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One more thing we know for sure: We’d never plant it on purpose. What else do you know about kudzu?