Kudzu, "scourge of the south" Invasive kudzu © USDA

Stories in Indiana

Journey with Nature: Kudzu

The invasive kudzu can easily overtake trees, abandoned homes, cars and telephone poles. Let's keep it out of Indiana!

Some call it amazing, others call it a menace. Either way, Kudzu - a creeping, climbing perennial vine - is an invasive species that is terrorizing native plants all over southeastern United States and making its way into Indiana.

Attack of the Killer Kudzu

Kudzu - or kuzu (クズ) - is native to Japan and southeast China. It was first introduced to the United States during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 where attendees marveled at the sweet-smelling blooms, large leaves and sturdy vines of what was touted as a great forage plant and ornamental for the backyard. Then, in the 1930s through the 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted it as a great tool for soil erosion control and was planted in abundance throughout the south. Little did we know that Kudzu is quite a killer, overtaking and growing over anything in its path.   

Kudzu looks innocent enough yet this semi-woody vine grows out of control quickly. It spreads through runners (stems that root at the tip when in contact with moist soil), rhizomes and by vines that root at the nodes to form new plants. Although the plant does seed, it does not reproduce as quickly in this matter. Once established, kudzu grows at a rate of one foot per day with mature vines as long as 100 feet. Known as "mile-a-minute" and "the vine that ate the South", kudzu can easily overtake trees, abandoned homes, cars and telephone poles. 

What to Do about Kudzu?

Kudzu can out-grow and out-compete native plants and ruin entire forested areas. Efforts to control and manage this invasive plant are necessary in order to ensure that Indiana is not overrun by kudzu like in the South. According to Purdue University, continuous mowing and grazing - both cattle & goats will eat kudzu - will weaken and eventually control the plant. There are also a variety of herbicides that are used to manage kudzu though results will vary between sites and applications. Indiana's Department of Natural Resources suggests that if herbicides are used to apply in the late summer when the plants are more susceptible to transferring the chemicals into storage organs making it more effective.

Though many will agree that the blooms of kudzu plants (above) are mighty pretty, the upheaval it may cause to the rest of your garden isn't. Kudzus are known as an invasive for a reason; please do not sell, buy or grow kudzu or any other invasive plants.

For more ways to control kudzu, check out Dr. James H. Miller's Kudzu Eradication and Management paper.