This story started at the intersection of Highway 6 and I-75. Hamilton County owns a small sewer system and water system at that intersection. Hamilton County as why they reported in the news has some contamination in the water of that small plant. That reminded me of another story.
When I lived in Atlanta, some well meaning bureaucrat decided he could clean up some of the streams in Atlanta by bringing to the U.S..a plant out of Southeast Asia. The name of the plant he brought was Kudzue a prolific plant that covers everything and eats chemicals and contamination. The Kudzue took over the entire Atlanta area. The prolific nature of the plant is that it grows two feet a day in root structure and leaf structure. It has taken over large sections of open ground in Atlanta.
While I was going to seminary in Atlanta on April fool’s day, one of the radio stations decided to spoof its audience with a false story about a school bus and the Kudzue plant. They reported that the school bus had crashed off of the road and the Kudzue was taking over the school bus. There just happened to be an “abandoned” school bus in a creek ravine filled with Kudzue. The radio helicopter reported the hoax exactly as if it was a real story. “The Kutzue is taking over the school bus and the kids are in danger”.
Shortly every radio and TV station in Atlanta had helicopters circling the “crash site”. All reporting that the bus had fallen into the ravine and it was being taken over by the Kutzu with the kids inside.
The radio station that started this hoax couldn’t stop the rumor, as it spread throughout Atlanta on multiple news outlets. The story led the evening news on all TV stations in Atlanta. Pictures of the bus being overtaken by the Kudsu were shown on most TV outlets and reported by most radio stations in Atlanta.
Parents showed up at the site; “lookey-lewers” ; and spectators came to see the carnage of the children being eaten by the Kudzu. Again the radio tried to kill the story by telling the truth but the truth wasn’t as exciting as the story.
Police efforts to control the crowd on the road near the crash site approved ineffective and the road was shut down causing a huge traffic jam. When the firemen finally got to the bus, they discovered that it was an abandoned bus and had no kids inside. The radio station who started the rumor kept saying that it was an April Fool’s joke and the Fireman confirmed the truth. But what a story!
Prior to this time, knowing that Kudzu was very prolific, I decided to plant some in my rental house back yard to cover up my deck. Needless to say, the Kudzu overtook the back yard in short order and the landlord was very upset. No good deed goes unpunished.
Some call it amazing, others call it a menace. Either way, Kudzu – a creeping, climbing perennial vine – is an invasive species that is terrorizing native plants all over southeastern United States.
Kudzu – or kuzu (クズ) – is native to Japan and southeast China. It was first introduced to the United States during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 where attendees marveled at the sweet-smelling blooms, large leaves and sturdy vines of what was touted as a great forage plant and ornamental for the backyard. Then, in the 1930s through the 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted it as a great tool for soil erosion control and was planted in abundance throughout the south. Little did we know that Kudzu is quite a killer, overtaking and growing over anything in its path.
Kudzu looks innocent enough yet this semi-woody vine grows out of control quickly. It spreads through runners (stems that root at the tip when in contact with moist soil), rhizomes and by vines that root at the nodes to form new plants. Although the plant does seed, it does not reproduce as quickly in this matter. Once established, kudzu grows at a rate of two feet per day with mature vines as long as 100 feet. Known as “mile-a-minute” and “the vine that ate the South”, kudzu can easily overtake trees, abandoned homes, cars and telephone poles.
According to Purdue University, continuous mowing and grazing – both cattle & goats will eat kudzu – will weaken and eventually control the plant. There are also a variety of herbicides that are used to manage kudzu though results will vary between sites and applications.
For more ways to control kudzu, check out Dr. James H. Miller’s Kudzu Eradication and Management paper.
In the United States, kudzu has been used as livestock feed, in fertilizer, and in erosion control, and the vines have been used for folk art. In Korea, kudzu root is harvested for its starch, which is used in various foods including naengmyon, as well as a health food and herbal medicine. In China, kudzu root is used in herbal remedies, teas, and the treatment of alcohol-related problems. The efficacy of the treatment of alcohol-related problems is currently under question, but experiments show promising results. In Japan, the kudzu root starch (or kuzu root starch) extracted from kudzu roots is used in cooking and natural medicines, and it is used to make hay that sick animals will eat. The starch is used in Japanese cuisine, and is widely consumed as such in that country. Kudzu is also used as a food crop in Java, Sumatra, and Malaya, and can be found in Puerto Rico and South America.
Other uses may include: paper products, food products, insect repellents (the smoke from burning leaves), honey, and methane production.
Ecology in and effect on new communities
Infestation of Kudzu in the United States.
Kudzu was intentionally introduced to North America by the Soil Erosion Service and Civilian Conservation Corp in 1876 for the purpose of controlling soil erosion in Pennsylvania. When kudzu was first introduced in the southeast, it was initially used as an ornamental vine to shade homes. By the early 20th century, southerners began to use kudzu for purposes other than ornamentation and so kudzu began to come closer in contact with the land which, in turn, encouraged its spread throughout the southeast. In the 135 years since its introduction, kudzu has spread over three million hectares (ha) of the southern United States, and continues to ‘consume’ the south at an estimated rate of 50,000 hectares (120,000 acres) per year, destroying power lines, buildings, and native vegetation in its path. In the United States, kudzu is extensively reported in Alabama, , Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Jersey, Oregon, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Of these states, three in the southeast have the heaviest infestations: Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Kudzu kills or damages other plants by smothering them under a blanket of leaves, encompassing tree trunks, breaking branches, or even uprooting entire trees. Kudzu’s ability to grow quickly, survive in areas of low nitrogen availability, and acquire resources quickly allows it to out-compete native species.
Kudzu is a very stress-tolerant plant. Kudzu is drought tolerant and only the above ground portions of the plant are damaged by frost. Kudzu also forms symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to convert atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into ammonium which can be used by surrounding plants. Now the dominant nitrogen-fixing plant in the eastern United States, kudzu fixes an estimated 235 kg of nitrogen per hectare per year, which is an order of magnitude higher than the rates of native species. This ability allows it to flourish in nitrogen-poor sites where other plants are unable to grow. In the absence of other plants, nitrogen then builds up in the soil, allowing the maintenance of large leaf areas and high photosynthetic rates.
While little research has been conducted on the impacts of plant invasion on atmospheric conditions, a study conducted at Stony Brook University in New York shows that kudzu has increased the concentration of atmospheric NOx in the eastern United States, which causes a 2 ppb increase in tropospheric ozone during high temperature events in addition to soil acidification, aluminum mobilization, and leaching of nitrate (NO3−) into aquatic ecosystems.
Once established in a habitat, kudzu is able to grow very quickly. Kudzu can grow up to 60 feet per season, or about one foot per day. Kudzu is also able to allocate large portions of carbon to root growth, allowing it to acquire sufficient nutrients for rapid growth and to spread clonally. Primary kudzu roots can weigh over 180 kg, grow to 18 cm in diameter, and penetrate soil at a rate of 3 cm in depth per day. Kudzu can also root wherever stems make contact with soil, allowing vines to grow in all directions. Once rooted, most stems lose connection with each other within one year, allowing each stem to become a physiologically independent individual, and requiring that all stems be treated or removed in order to eliminate a population.
In addition to its abilities to obtain nutrients and spread quickly, kudzu leaves have paraheliotropic movements, meaning that they move in response to the movement of the sun in order to maximize photosynthetic productivity. Kudzu is also a “structural parasite“, meaning that, rather than supporting itself, it grows on top of other plants and buildings to reach light. Its ability to reproduce and spread quickly allows it to quickly cover shrubs, trees, and forests, where it blocks the Sun’s rays from the plants below it, decreasing or completely eliminating their photosynthetic productivity.
The economic impact of kudzu in the United States is estimated at $100 million to $500 million lost per year in forest productivity. In addition, it takes about $5,000 per hectare (2.5 acres) per year to control kudzu. Power companies must spend about $1.5 million per year to repair damage to power lines.
Kudzu management is of great concern in the management of national parks in the southeast such as Vicksburg National Military Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In Vicksburg, kudzu has invaded 190 of the 2,000 total acres of the park and threatens to diminish the historical value of the park.
There are several methods for controlling kudzu growth that are used in the Southeastern United States. These include mechanical, chemical, and biological methods.
herbicides (40-80 gallons per acre). Herbicides are found to be most effective when they are used during the typical growing season, June–October, and when used for successive years. One case study saw a significant decrease in the growth of kudzu after just two years, whereas another study required the use of the herbicide for up to ten years.
A separate study also found two weevils that attacked the stems of kudzu and eight beetles that complete larval development in the kudzu roots. When evaluations of potential control agents are made, the range of the control agents must be taken into account. Organisms that feed on kudzu will often feed on similar non-target species that are important in agriculture, such as soybeans and hog-peanuts. Potential control agents have to be rejected if they are shown in laboratory and field tests to feed on these non-target plants.
Of the diseases that have been identified as potential biological control agents, the fungal pathogen Myrothecium verrucaria has been shown to be very promising. Disease development is very high at around 30 °C to 40 °C, which matches field conditions. In addition, the fungus does not spread outside of areas where it is applied. However, one major drawback of this biological control agent is that it is highly toxic to mammals, so extreme care would have to be taken in handling this organism. Other pathogens have been tested as potential biological control agents, but have proven to be ineffective.
Another way to control kudzu is goats and sheep. A small herd can reduce an acre (0.4 ha) of kudzu every day. It has also been suggested that humans can help control the invasive vine by eating it as well.
Jump up^“Controlling Kudzu With Naturally Occurring Fungus”. Science Daily. July 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
Jump up^Bill Finch, “Legend of the Green Monster,” Smithsonian Magazine, vol. 46, no 5, September, 2015, p. 19
Jump up^Richard J. Blaustein (2001). “Kudzu’s invasion into Southern United States life and culture” (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
^ Jump up to:ab c d e f g Harrington, Timothy B., Laura T. Rader-Dixon, and John W. Taylor. “Kudzu (Pueraria Montana) Community Responses to Herbicides, Burning, and High-density Loblolly Pine.” Weed Science,965-974, 2003.
^ Jump up to:ab c Hickman, Jonathan E., Shiliang Wu, Loretta J. Mickey, and Manuel T. Lerdau. “Kudzu (Pueraria Montana) Invasion Doubles Emissions of Nitric Oxide and Increases Ozone Pollution.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 107.22, 10115-10119, 2010.
^ Jump up to:ab c d Conservation Commission of Missouri. “Kudzu.”Archived 2011-05-26 at the Wayback Machine. Missouri Department of Conservation,2011.
Jump up^Sun, J H; Li, Z-C; Jewett, D K; Britton, K O; Ye, W H; Ge, X-J (2005). “Genetic diversity of Pueraria lobata (kudzu) and closely related taxa as revealed by inter-simple sequence repeat analysis”. Weed Research. 45: 255. doi:1111/j.1365-3180.2005.00462.x.
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^ Jump up to:ab c McGroarty, Michael J. “Kudzu, the Vine That Ate the South.”How To Control Kudzu, 2010
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^ Jump up to:ab c Frye, Matthew J., Judith Hough-Goldstein, and Jiang-Hua Sun. “Biology and Preliminary Host Range Assessment of Two Potential Kudzu Biological Control Agents.” Environmental Entomology, Vol. 36, 1430-1440, 2007.
Jump up^Cogdell, Christina (2011). “Tearing Down the Grid”. Design and Culture. 3 (1).
^ Jump up to:ab Bill Finch, “The True Story of Kudzu, the Vine That Never Truly Ate the South”, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2015 
Jump up^Marshall, Jessica “Kudzu Gets Kudos as a Potential Biofuel”Kudzu Gets Kudos as a Potential Biofuel, 2008Archived November 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Jump up to:ab c d e Blaustein, R.J. (2001). “Kudzu’s invasion into Southern United States life and culture”. In McNeely, J. A. The Great Reshuffling: Human Dimensions of Invasive Alien Species(PDF). IUCN. pp. 55–62. ISBN 2-8317-0602-5.
Jump up^Webster, C.R.; Jenkins, M. A. & Jose, S. “Woody Invaders and the Challenges They Pose to Forest Ecosystems in the Eastern United States” Journal of Forestry, Vol. 104, 366-274. 2006.
Jump up^Miller, James H., and Ronald E. True.”Herbicide Tests for Kudzu Eradication.” Georgia Forestry Commission, Vol. 65, 1986.
^ Jump up to:ab Adams, Nicole E., et al. “Effects of Kudzu (Pueraria Montanta) Solarization on the Chemistry of an Upper Piedmont South Carolina Soil” Soil Science, Vol. 175, 61-71. 2010.
Jump up^“Kudzu Quickie – Eat The Weeds and other things, too”. 31 August 2011.