trees covered with kudzu

Kudzu (Pueraria montana or Pueraria montana var. lobata) is a member of the Fabaceae, or legume family. It is a deciduous vine that is capable of covering tree canopies and buildings. Eastern Asia is where kudzu originated from and it was introduced into the U.S. in the late 1800s (Huebner et al. 2007). Currently kudzu is present in 31 states (USDA PLANTS Database). The primary reasons for introduction were to control erosion, for livestock feed and folk art (Miller 2004). Most commonly found established in high densities in the southeastern states, kudzu is expanding northward (Gleason and Cronquist 1991).

Kudzu is a woody, twining, mat forming vine that is capable of growing up to 35-100 feet (10-30m) long. The leaves are alternate, trifoliate (having three leaflets), and leaflets have smooth or lobed margins and the underside is hairy (Huebner et al. 2007). Flowers bloom from June to September in clusters (racemes) and range from a lavender to wine color with yellow centers. Fruits are pubescent legume pods that contain a few ovoid seeds from September to January (Miller 2004).

Kudzu is able to reproduce a variety of different ways: root suckers, rooting at the nodes, and by seed (Huebner et al. 2007). Seeds are dispersed via wind, animal, or water (Miller 2004).

The preferred habitats for kudzu include forest edges, roadsides, old fields and disturbed areas. Kudzu is shade and cold intolerant but can grow in compact, nutrient poor soil (Huebner et al. 2007). In New River Gorge, kudzu is located at old mining town sites like Thayer, Nuttallburg, Thurmond, and Kaymoor. In these areas, kudzu tends to stay in the open, sunny areas and does not significantly encroach into the forest. The Invasive Pests Management Team works to control kudzu to these areas by using chemical herbicides. A foliar spray with the active ingredient clopyralid is selective for and especially effective on species of the Fabaceae family (legumes). Glyphosate can also be used as a foliar spray and triclopy for a cut stump treatment.

Literature Cited
Gleason, H.A. and A. Cronquist.. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Canada. 2 ed. Bronx (NY): The New York Botanical Garden Press, p. 305.

Huebner, C.D., C. Olson, and H.C.Smith. 2007. Invasive plants field and reference guide: an ecological perspective of plant invaders of forests and woodlands. USDA Forest Service. Newtown Square, PA.

Miller, J.H. 2004. Nonnative invasive plant of southern forest: A field guide for identification and control. General Technical Report SRS-62. U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, Asheville, NC.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS database. PLANTS profile:Puearia montana (Lour.) Merr. Kudzu. Available from https://plants.usda.gov/java/nameSearch. (Accessed 25 March 2013).

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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