Kudzu is a major threat to Michigan. In this report I will discuss many factors as to why kudzu is a threat, and what we as a state can do about it. The reason I chose this topic was that I have lived in the south for most of my life, and have seen the effects of Kudzu. This plant is very threatening to us agriculturally as well as economically, and we need to deal with this problem now, before it spreads up into the beautiful landscape of Michigan.
Kudzu is a climbing, semi-woody, perennial vine in the legume family. It has deciduous leaves, with three broad leaflets that measure up to four inches across. Its individual flowers are a half inch long, purple, highly fragrant, and are born in large hanging clusters. Flowering occurs in late summer and is soon followed by the production of brown, hairy, flattened, seed pods, each of which contains three to ten hard seeds. It’s roots are fleshy, with massive tap roots that are seven or more inches in diameter, six feet or more in length, and weighing as much as four hundred pounds! It is common throughout the southeastern United States and has been found as far north as New York. Kudzu grows well under a wide range of conditions and in most soil types. Preferred habitats for this vine are forest edges, abandoned fields, roadsides, and disturbed areas, where sunlight is abundant. Kudzu grows best where the winters are mild, summer temperatures are above eighty degrees Fahrenheit, and annual rainfall is forty inches or more. (Description, Internet).
Kudzu was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Countries were invited to build exhibits to celebrate the 100th birthday of our country. The Japanese government constructed a beautiful garden filled with plants from their country. Kudzu was in this garden, and many viewed it as a good plant for ornamental purposes, so American gardeners started to use it. In Japan, ground kudzu has been a common ingredient in foods and medications for centuries. It is respected and enjoyed there, but it grows better in our south than it does there. Its natural insect enemies were not brought to the United States with it. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the Soil Conservation service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young farmers were given work planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps. They were paid eight dollars an acre as an incentive to plant fields of the vines in the 1940’s. (Amazing, Internet).” Since it’s introduction into the United states, Kudzu has become important as a source of hay and forage. As a hay plant, the nature of Kudzu makes it difficult to harvest, but as pasturage, Kudzu is highly valuable for its protein and it’s A & D content. (Encarta, Computer)
While they help prevent erosion, the vines can also destroy valuable forests by preventing trees from getting sunlight (Amazing,Internet).Kudzu kills other plants by smothering them under a solid blanket of leaves, by girdling woody stems and tree trunks, and by breaking branches or uprooting entire trees and shrubs through the sheer force of its weight. Once it has established a set root system, Kudzu grows rapidly, extending as much as sixty feet per season at a rate of one foot per day. This vigorous vine may extend one hundred feet in length or more. ( Description, Internet). Kudzu has been moving northward at an alarming rate, and is currently bordering Michigan. The vine is adapting to our climate, and soon will be pushing its way farther north to Petoskey, killing thousands of cherry trees along the way. Another big contribution to Kudzu’s growth is Global Warming. Over the years, our temperatures have been increasing, allowing more vegetation to grow. This change is just enough for Kudzu to thrive, and we need to take action now. Ecologists warn that this “Biological pollution” poses nearly as great an environmental threat as habitat losses generated by more familiar enemies of nature including housing developments, clear-cut logging, overgrazing, and oil spills. “We have inaugurated a new era of ecological chaos,” said Chris Bright of the World watch institute in Washington, D.C. “When an exotic plant establishes a new living area, it can spread to new areas and adapt. This is happening all the time, virtually everywhere.” (Bio-pollution, Internet)
So far, like human immigration control, the battle against kudzu has been spotty, expensive, and largely ineffective. Two dozen federal agencies have stitched together crazy ways of detection and eradication efforts with state and local authorities.(Bio-pollution, Internet) Some of the efforts are completely not helping the problem, while others are on the edge of a breakthrough. All of these methods come to one point: for successful long term control of Kudzu, the extensive root system must be destroyed. Any remaining roots can lead to reinfestation of the area. Here are the four best, and different, approaches to the problem. Management approach #1: Dr. James H. Miller of the U.S. Forest Service in Auburn, Alabama has found one herbicide that actually makes kudzu grow better while many have little effect after 18 years of research. Miller recommends repeated herbicide treatments for at least four years, but some kudzu plants may take as long as ten years to kill, even with the most effective herbicides (Amazing, Internet). The problem with this method is that herbicides are very dangerous for the environment, and will most definitely harm our environment with the continuos herbicide treatments. Management approach #2: Mechanical methods involve cutting the vines just above the ground level and destroying all cut material. Close mowing every month for two growing seasons or repeated cultivation may be effective. Cut Kudzu can be fed to livestock, burned, or enclosed in plastic bags and sent to a landfill. If conducted in the spring, cutting must be repeated as regrowth appears to exhaust the plant’s stored carbohydrate reserves. Late season cutting should be followed up with immediate application of a systemic herbicide (e.g., glyphosate) to cut stems, to encourage transport of the herbicide into the root system. Repeated applications of several soil-active herbicides have been used effectively on large infestations in forestry situations. It has not yet been used near populated areas. (Bergmann, Internet) This method would take a lot of time, labor, and money to be successful.. The herbicides are also not a very good thing to use near populated areas. Also, cutting up the plant wouldn’t solve the problem, it would be more of an “Out of sight, out of mind” situation. The Kudzu will come back. Management approach #3: Dr. Errol G. Rhoden, along with other researchers at Tuskegee University, has successfully raised Angora goats in field of Kudzu which would otherwise be considered wasted land. The goats keep the Kudzu from spreading further while producing profitable milk and wool products. Rhoden says constant grazing will eventually eradicate kudzu. If kudzu is to provide a continuing food source, animals must be removed from the fields occasionally to allow the vine to grow back enough to feed again. (Amazing, Internet) This is a good idea, although it may take many years to do so. Not only is the Kudzu being confined to a small area to be able to feed goats, the goats are producing milk and wool, which would be very profitable to our economy. Management approach #4: Researchers from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, have married nature and science in a scheme that might pose a very realistic threat to Kudzu. Those scientists use two species of insect larvae eating in tandem to kill Kudzu. Importing a foreign species of insect can be dangerous because of the potential long-term effect on the environment. Instead, the researchers have introduced the soybean looper( a caterpillar usually found in soybeans) into fields of Kudzu, but not before they sabotaged the caterpillars. To keep the soybean loopers from pupating into moths and destroying crops, researchers injected the caterpillars’ larvae themselves with eggs from a stingless wasp. The eggs hatched into wasp larvae, which not only killed the caterpillars from within, but caused them to eat more rapidly than normal. The wasp larvae (each egg can contain hundreds of them) sit there until the last growth stage of the caterpillars, in which they then kill them. This most recent strategy in the war on Kudzu, financed by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service and Federal Department of Energy, has been successful in tests in the Carolinas. It may be soon used to kill kudzu in more remote places in national forests where heavy equipment or poison would threaten the surrounding plants or wildlife. Millions of insects were harvested this last summer, and the effects were incredible. They strip off all the leaves, defoliate the plant repeatedly, and the plant uses up starch reserves in its roots and has to expand energy to put out new leaves. Finally, it exhausts itself and dies, and the roots must be pulled up and removed. ( Larvae War, New York Times) The plans that I would implement would be plans 3 and 4. The wasps would take out most of the kudzu, since that is the only thing that they were genetically made to eat. After about a month, the wasps would die off. To prevent populating the world with them, we would control how many were made, and make sure that they couldn’t reproduce. If there happened to be anything left, the goats could live there and thrive off of the Kudzu. That way, no herbicides would be introduced, and we would benefit from the goats milk and wool. The cost would also not be that much to the U.S. Yearly, the Agriculture Department spends $30 million alone on weed management. (Bio-pollution, Internet) APHIS is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and it has been working on the removal of Kudzu, and after calculating spending for the last few years’ weed management, they’ve found that it would cost $2,129,000 to the whole United States to implement the plan. If we add the goat farms, that would cost another $50,000, but the profits from the milk and wool would, over time, exceed the original spending. Dividing the overall cost between the states would end up costing Michigan $43,580. (Noxious, Internet)
Kudzu was a mistake. It never should have been introduced into the United States. Today, there are many organizations that are making sure that no organic life is being transferred from country to country. After years of research, we have finally come up with some good solutions to the threats of a continent covered in Kudzu. Some people believe that Kudzu is a good thing. It has been used for medicines, food, and soil erosion solutions. There have been comic strips and even a musical based on Kudzu. Now we, as a country, realize that this is no laughing matter, and we also realize that something must be done. The answer is wasps/caterpillars and goats. It’s hard to believe that something so simple could cost so much money and time on research. Let’s hope that this never happens again.
Bergmann, Carole. “Kudzu.” 7/6/99. www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/pulo1.htm.
Bragg, Rick. “In the War on Kudzu Weed, a Scientific Strategy.” The New York Times September 7, 1997. 4.
“Kudzu.” Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia. 2000 Edition
“Noxious Weeds Program Profile.” www.aphis.usda.gov:80/bad/refbook2000/NoxiousWeeds.pdf.
“The Amazing Story of Kudzu.” www.cptr.ua.edu/kudzu/.
Verrengia, Joseph. “Bio-Pollution Crisis.” 10/04/99. www.msnbc.com/news/313613.asp?cp1=1#BODY.