Thanks to warming weather, the scourge of the South is now becoming the plague of the North as well. Kudzu (Pueraria lobata), once delegated to areas south of the Mason-Dixon line (an East-West line running from northern Maryland through West Virginia, southern Ohio, and southern Illinois), is now spreading into northern Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and even southern Michigan.
This climbing, semi-woody vine of the legume family with fragrant purple flowers has large, starchy, storage roots that fuel its rampant growth. This opportunist grows in any vacant area on almost any type of soil. The vine can grow one foot a day during summer. The classic image is kudzu vines engulfing houses, telephone poles, trees, and any immovable object. In Georgia the legend says that you must close your windows at night to keep kudzu out of the house. Kudzu covers so completely that it can kill a mature tree in a matter of one to two years.
If you're in the northern areas where kudzu is invading, removing it while still young is crucial. Small patches can be removed by repeated mowing, weeding, or even grazing. Goats love kudzu and have been used in the South to eradicate it. You can even use the vines for craft projects, such as wreaths and baskets. If you're persistent you can eliminate a kudzu patch within three to four years. For well-established patches, it may take up to ten years.
For more on Kudzu, visit the Virginia Native Plant Society's Kudzu Web page.
Article published on June 23, 2008.