Wildflower Watch

Plant – Kudzu

Botanical Name – Pueraria lobata

n The month of January, Wildflower Watch will feature four invasive plants that are not native and have become a scourge throughout the South. Just like imported fire ants and boll weevils, these introduced plants have no natural predators or controls, and the result has been extremely deleterious for the agricultural community, the economy, for wildlife and native flora.

Perhaps by examining these plants that have become such a nuisance, more gardeners can be persuaded to go native.

Today’s featured plant, kudzu, is an excellent example of how an exotic plant can run amok. In the Southeast during the summer months, a kudzu vine can grow as much as a foot per day and under ideal conditions, can grow 60 feet a year. Kudzu can vigorously climb up telephone poles, choke out entire forests and cover houses, barns, cars and slow moving creatures within a matter of just a few months. Kudzu now covers over 7 million acres in the South.

Kudzu is a native plant of China and Japan, where it does not get out of hand, and it was first introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pa., but it was during the Great Depression that kudzu literally took off, because the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu as a form of erosion control.

With the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, acres and acres of kudzu were planted throughout the South. Today, kudzu is listed as a noxious weed, and eradication of this clambering vine has largely been unsuccessful. Just in case you are not familiar with kudzu, I will begin by saying that in spite of its bad reputation, it is a pretty vine with fragrant, attractive flowers. It has large, round compound leaves, violet-purple, pea-like flowers and hairy stems. Like a typical plant of the pea family, after flowering, it produces a hairy pod. Locally, kudzu can be found rampantly growing on North Gloster Street in Tupelo, and in the Cherry Creek area of Pontotoc County, which has acres and acres of it.

Kudzu, is undoubtedly, a botanical plague, but there are always some cock-eyed optimists who try to make the best of a bad situation by making kudzu blossom jelly or syrup, and a few crafty folks weave baskets from kudzu vines, which I would hesitate to buy for fear it would sprout!

Hopefully one day soon, some bright, young scientist will discover a way to control this aggressive, alien plant, but until then make sure to plant native plants in defiance of this vine that wants to eat the South.

Wildflower Watch is written by Margaret Gratz for the Northeast Mississippi Native Plant Society.

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