Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Plant That Ate The South

I know I promised more from Lakota Woman this week, but I've been sick for three weeks and haven't progressed in my reading, so that will have to wait until I can concentrate.

Although this post isn't purely western-based, I did have to wonder if those who lived in the late 1800s noticed what they had started.

I was stirred to this topic by sharing a video with my husband about a dangerous plant that is overtaking Michigan.  Even touching it can cause blindness or  irritating and scarring skin lesions.  How scary is that? We have another problem in the South so we don't need a dangerous hogweed attacking us as well.

 I recall when we first visited Tennessee, I was so impressed with the different colors of green, specifically the huge vines adhering everywhere.  I later learned that "vine" is called Kudzu.  I've done a little much as a drug-riddled mind can do in my state, and I want to share this interesting information with you.  I'm copying and pasting from Wikipedia, so I credit them with the content of this blog.

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is a serious invasive plant in the United States. It has been spreading in the southern U.S. at the rate of 150,000 acres (61,000 ha) annually, "easily outpacing the use of herbicide spraying and mowing, as well increasing the costs of these controls by $6 million annually."Its introduction has produced devastating environmental consequences. This has earned it the nickname, "The vine that ate the South."

The kudzu plant was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kudzu was introduced to the Southeast in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. The vine was widely marketed in the Southeast as an ornamental plant to be used to shade porches and in the first half of the 20th century, kudzu was distributed as a high-protein content cattle fodder and as a cover plant to prevent soil erosion. The Soil Erosion Service recommended the use of kudzu to help control erosion of slopes which led to the government-aided distribution of 85 million seedlings and government-funded plantings of kudzu which paid $19.75 per hectare. By 1946, it was estimated that 1,200,000 hectares (3,000,000 acres) of kudzu had been planted. When boll weevil infestations and the failure of cotton crops drove farmers to move from rural to urban districts, kudzu plantings were left unattended.
 The climate and environment of the Southeastern United States allowed the kudzu to grow virtually unchecked. In 1953 the United States Department of Agriculture removed kudzu from a list of suggested cover plants and listed it as a weed in 1970. By 1997, the vine was placed on the “Federal Noxious Weed List”. Today, kudzu is estimated to cover 3,000,000 hectares (7,400,000 acres) of land in the southeastern United States, mostly in AlabamaGeorgiaFlorida, and Mississippi. It has been recorded in Nova ScotiaCanada, in Columbus, Ohio, and in all five boroughs of New York City.  NOTE From Ginger...let me tell you, it's everywhere in TN, too.
Kudzu is a perennial vine native to Southeast Asia, primarily subtropical and temperate regions of ChinaJapan, and Korea, with trifoliate leaves composed of three leaflets. Five species in the genus Pueraria (P. montanaP. lobataP. edulisP. phaseoloides and P. thomsoni) are closely related and kudzu populations in the United States seem to have ancestry from more than one of the species.] Each leaflet is large and ovate with two to three lobes each and hair on the underside. The leaves have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which can supply up to 95% of leaf nitrogen to the plant in poor soils] Along the vines are nodes, points at which stems or tendrils can propagate to increase support and attach to structures. As a twining vine, kudzu uses stems or tendrils that can extend from any node on the vine to attach to and climb most surfaces. In addition, the nodes of the kudzu vine have the ability to root when exposed to soil, further anchoring the vine to the ground. The roots are tuberous and are high in starch and water content, and the twining of the plant allows for less carbon concentration in the construction of woody stems and greater concentration in roots, which aids root growth. The roots can account for up to 40% of total plant biomass.
Kudzu’s primary method of reproduction is asexual vegetative spread (cloning) which is aided by the ability to root wherever a stem is exposed to soil] For sexual reproduction, kudzu is entirely dependent on pollinators.
Although kudzu prefers forest regrowth and edge habitats with high sun exposure, the plant can survive in full sun or partial shade. These attributes of kudzu made it attractive as an ornamental plant for shading porches in the southeastern US, but they facilitated the growth of kudzu as it became a “structural parasite” of the South, enveloping entire structures when untreated and often referred to as “the vine that ate the south”.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Ginger, my husband and I have been amazed at the spread of kudzu when driving through the South. Another of the govt. errors was the development of Johnson grass, which is everywhere in Texas. My husband is especially allergic to it. Thanks for the interesting post.

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Thanks for taking time to stop by and comment, Caroline. I can't believe how much more the Kudzu has consumed in the years we've been here, but I'll take that over the blinding, lesion-leaving hogweed that's taking over Michigan. Wonder how long until it gets here. :( The Kudzu is beautiful when everything is green, but it adds even an uglier aspect in the Fall. I just don't want any of it near my house. :) I feel sorry for people with allergies. I only have asthma which is usually triggered by upper respiratory virus' and boy am I having a time with mine right now. Have a great day!

Kat said...

Great post, Ginger! Kudzu sounds pretty dangerous. I can see why you don't want it near where you live. It's not hot enough up here in Canada to have plant's like that grow however, when winter lasts almost eight months I'd almost take the plant over another snow fall. :) Happy Wednesday!

Sandra Dailey said...

I live in a rural area of Florida. One year, while recuperating from surgery, I couldn't care for my lawn as usual. The creek beside my house was taken over by Kudzu. Now, the beautiful giant elephant ears and tiger lilies I used to love are gone forever.