Kudzu, a vine that is native to China and Japan, was introduced into southeastern United States in the 1930’s. The Soil Conservation Service wanted farmers to plant the ornamental plant to reduce soil erosion. What the Soil Conservation Service didn’t realize is that the hot humid summers coupled with frequent rain & mild winters were perfect for Kudzu to spread quickly. Now Kudzu has begun to works its way northward destroying native plants and crops in its path.
By 1953 the USDA named kudzu as a pest plant, but that didn’t stop the vine from continuing its wrath on agriculture. It is now being found as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as Key West Florida. Overall, about 20,000 to 30,000 kilometers of the southwestern part of the US has kudzu and it kills about $500 million dollars worth of crops annually and damages countless buildings. Although it is susceptible to cold weather, it is hearty enough to come back in the spring. The use of herbicides only succeeds in damaging the soil and water and it seems, making the kudzu grow even better!
Some people are taking a different approach to kudzu. A Dr. Errol G. Rhoden (of Tuskegee Alabama) raised Angora goats on kudzu covered land. The land was considered useless until he used it for livestock. By doing this, he has helped control the spread of kudzu, while making a profit on the milk and wool products. There are others who are using kudzu for artistic purposes. In South Carolina, Nancy Basket is using kudzu to make paper, baskets and soap.
Until researchers can find a way to irradiate kudzu without causing other ecological damage, it looks like the best defense against it to find ways to utilize the plant for good. Besides raising animals and creating art, kudzu can also be used to make jelly and tea and known for its medicinal properties.