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Kudzu grows and grows

Piedmont Players is presenting “Kudzu” next week, and I thought you might like some interesting information on the South’s most notorious, invasive plant.
There are more than 115 noxious weeds in North Carolina, but none as all encompassing as the kudzu, covering almost 7 million acres.
Visitors to the South are amazed by the miles and miles of scenery that are covered by these vines. We have some fairly large tracts in Salisbury as well (the one pictured above is on Old Concord Road).
Kudzu, or Pueraria montana, is a plant native to Asia, and was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Japan had a beautiful exhibit of plants from their country, which included kudzu as an ornamental vine, used in pasturage. American gardeners were excited about growing the large leaves and beautiful, sweet-smelling, pea-like, purple blooms.
It was promoted for forage here in the 1920s and even sold through the mail in order to mass market the plant. During the Great Depression, it was promoted for erosion control and planted throughout the South with the blessing and help of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Farmers were even paid to plant fields of the vine in the 1940s.
However, what had been proclaimed as the “miracle vine” soon became a problem. The reason it is so prolific in the South is that the weather conditions are ideal for its growth. It solved the erosion problem all right ó by growing a foot a day, and more than 60 feet a year in ideal conditions. It soon covered fields, landscapes, telephone poles, buildings and forests, killing plants by blocking out the sunlight. By the 1950s it was recognized as a weed and by 1998, a noxious weed.
The challenge has been that it is so hard to halt its growth. Although the first frost kills the leaves, it will come back and continue growing the next year from where it left off.
If the plant is not eradicated completely, new sprouts can reclaim the area within a short time. Persistence in following initial treatments with spot applications is essential to getting rid of the plant. There are herbicides labeled to kill kudzu that do a great job, but many of them are restricted-use pesticides that require a valid pesticide license. Also, timing is an important factor when using some herbicides.
Kudzu’s natural insect enemies were not brought to the U.S. with it, so predatory insects and other biological controls are being researched. They are still in the development stages, so edible crops are not destroyed in the process of eradicating the kudzu.
With all of its bad press, there are people who have found useful ways to use the vines for baskets, the leaves for paper or the blossoms for jelly and other recipes ó even deep-fried kudzu leaves.
James Dickey’s poem of Kudzu is pretty scary:
“Like things smothered by their own
Green, mindless, unkillable ghosts.
In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows
At night to keep it out of the house.
The glass is tinged with green, even so,”
Enjoy the play next week … then close your windows.
Deb Walker is a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Cooperative Extension Service.

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