The Vine that Ate the South

kudzu patch at Bowmans Island

NPS Photo

Kudzu, (Pueraria montana) is a deciduous twining, trailing, mat-forming, woody leguminous vine 35 to 100 feet long that forms dense infestations along forest and roadside edges. Leaves have three leaflets with variable lobes. Slender tight clusters of white and violet pealike flowers appear in midsummer to yield clusters of dangling flat pods in fall. Pods fall unopened, and seed are variable in viability across the region. Colonizes by vines rooting at nodes, and spread by wind-, animal-, and water-dispersed seeds. Large semiwoody tuberous roots with no vine buds reach depths of three to 16 feet, while the target of control on older plants is a knot- or ball-like root crown on top of the soil surface where vines and roots originate.

Management Strategies:

  • DO NOT PLANT KUDZU. Remove prior plantings, and control sprouts and seedlings. Bag and dispose of plants and seed pods in a dumpster or burn.
  • Treat when new plants are young to prevent spread.
  • Anticipate wider occupation when plants are present before disturbance.
  • Root crowns can be removed with mattocks, hoes, and saws, while removal of the tuberous taproot is not required for control.
  • Mow and then cover for two years with plastic sheeting firmly fastened down to gain partial control.
  • Repeated multiyear cutting to groundline can achieve control over many years.
  • Prescribed burning in spring can clear debris, sever climbing vines, and reveal hazards before summer applications. Repeated burns will not control. Burns are hot especially in winter.
  • Tender new shoots are readily eaten by cattle, hogs, and horses, while only goats and sheep will eat semiwoody and woody vines. Prescribed grazing can reduce infestations over several years while pine tree planting in later years can minimize kudzu.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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