Baskets. Peas. Cows. Why Do We Have Kudzu All Over the South?

Kudzu on trees in Atlanta, Georgia, USA Locati...

Kudzu in Atlanta, Georgia

Do you remember when kudzu was used to contain soil erosion?

If you’ve driven much around the Southeastern U.S., you may have noticed the graceful vines with large leaves covering hillsides and trees, powerlines and roadsides there.

Southerners call it “the vine that ate the South.” It is kudzu.

Where Did Kudzu Come  From?

Native to Japan and China, where it is used as food, in medicines, and in basket weaving, kudzu is a pea. It improves the soil both by fixing nitrogen in the soil and transferring minerals from the subsoil to the topsoil.

Japan introduced kudzu to the United States at their 1876 Centennial Exposition pavilion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

What Is It Good For?

Sold initially to gardeners for its sweet smell and ornamental properties, Florida nursery operators, Charles and Lillie Pleas, discovered its use for forage for cows and other animals and started promoting it in the 1920s.

The Civilian Conservation Corps promoted its use as protection against soil erosion in the 1930s.

The U. S. introduced it to Fiji during World War II as a camouflauge for equipment.

What Happened?

In 1953, the U.S. government stopped promoting kudzu because its hypergrowth, up to 60 feet of vine in a year, choked off the sunlight from trees in forests.

Despite the discovery that goats could forage on kudzu that grew on land otherwise unproductive, by 1972, kudzu was declared a weed.

Adopted especially in the South, without the insects that control it in its native habitat, kudzu thrived.

Abandoned as forage because it is depleted in three years, it is also expensive to bale and store because it retains water on the leaves.

It is spreading at the rate of 150,000 acres a year and is now in 31 states across the U.S.

To see a YouTube video of kudzu, and a map of the 31 states where it grows, click here.

What’s Next?

Kudzunol. One scientist thinks it can be used as the basis for a kudzu-based ethanol.

Click here to see a YouTube video of a scientist experimenting with kudzu as an alternative fuel, what he calls kudzunol.

Do you know of any other invasive species imported in your lifetime that turned out not to have the properties hoped for?

Do you know of any successful imports, like pineapples in Hawaii and tomatoes in Europe?

Are you familiar with mutations successfully introduced, like Granny Smith apples?

To you and seeing the wonder of nature all around us through the eyes of your grandchildren.

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Carol Covin, “Granny-Guru”

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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