Synonym(s): Glycine javanica, Pueraria lobata, Pueraria thunbergiana
Family: Fabaceae (Pea Family)
Duration and Habit: Perennial Vine
Deciduous twining, trailing, mat-forming, ropelike woody leguminous vine, 35 to 100 feet (10 to 30 m) long with three-leaflet leaves. Large semiwoody tuberous roots reaching depths of 3 to 16 feet (1 to 5 m). Leaves and small vines dying with first frost and matted dead leaves persistent during winter. Kudzu is deciduous losing its leaves in the fall usually following a killing frost. Leaves are alternate and compound with three oval to nearly heart-shaped leaftlets each three to four inches long. Leaflets are dark green and may be entire or slightly lobed. Leaves and stems are hairy. Dense stands of Kudzu are characterized by thousands of single-colored plants covering everything in their range. Fragrant purple flowers are clustered in axillary racemes up to one foot long. Each floret is pea-like, and may be purple or purplish-red. The fragrance is described as grape-like. Flowers are rarely produced in open patches on flat ground but do form in mid-summer on vines draped over trees, fences or other objects. Kudzu fruits produced in the fall are hairy, flattened leguminous pods. Each pod bears only a few hard-coated seeds which may remain dormant and viable for several years before they germinate.
Ecological Threat: Kudzu kills or degrades 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 established, Kudzu plants grow rapidly, extending as much as 60 feet per season at a rate of about one foot per day. This vigorous vine may extend 32-100 feet in length, with stems 1-4 inches in diameter. Kudzu roots are fleshy, with massive tap roots 7 inches or more in diameter, 6 feet or more in length, and weighing as much as 400 pounds. As many as thirty vines may grow from a single root crown.
Biology & Spread: The spread of kudzu in the U.S. is currently limited to vegetative expansion by runners and rhizomes and by vines that root at the nodes to form new plants. Kudzu also spreads somewhat through seeds, which are contained in pods, and which mature in the fall. However, only one or two viable seeds are produced per cluster of pods and these hard-coated seeds may not germinate for several years.
History: Kudzu was introduced in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where it was used in a Japanese government display garden. It was planted widely as an ornamental vine for its abundant vegetation and sweet-smelling flowers. In the 1920's it was promoted as a forage plant and by the 1930's the Soil Conservation Service encouraged landowners to plant it for erosion control. The Civilian Conservation Corps planted it and farmers were paid as much as $8.00 per acre to plant fields of the vine in the 1930's and 1940's. Kudzu Clubs were established during the 1940's to honor "the miracle vine". Not until the 1950's did the U.S. government cease advocating the use of this plant. In 1970 the USDA declared kudzu a noxious weed and in 1997 kudzu is made a federal noxious weed.
U.S. Habitat: Kudzu grows best in well-drained degraded or eroded land or in disturbed, sandy, deep-loam soils in full sun. It will, however, invade well-drained acid-soil forests. It does not grow well or at all in wet bottomlands or in thin hard-pan soils. It will not establish healthy grass cover, but may spread into such areas by running vines. (U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension, MS) Kudzu can persist on the floor of a closed canopy forest (Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2001).
U.S. Nativity: Introduced to U.S.
Native Origin: China & Japan (Alfred Rehder, Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs: Hardy in North America, The MacMillan Co., New York (1967)); NatureServe Explorer
U.S. Present: AL, AR, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
List All Observations of Pueraria montana var. lobata reported by Citizen Scientists
Native vines such as trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla), passionflower (Passiflora lutea), trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), and native bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) have attractive flowers and fruits, provide food for wildlife and make excellent substitutes for kudzu. These plants should be used in landscaping and for land restoration where they are known to occur as natives.
Alternative species native to Texas include Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
There are multiple methods for chemical control of Kudzu. Persistent eradication of all roots is the key to controlling kudzu systemic herbicides will give the best effects. Miller et al. studied the effects of numerous chemicals over an eight-year period. Out of twenty five herbicides, Tordon 101 Mixture (2,4-D +picloram) and Tordon K(picloram liquid) were the most cost-effective treatments. Cut Stump Method: Use this method in areas where vines are established within or around non-target plants or where vines have grown into the canopy. Cut the stem 5 cm (2 in) above ground level. Immediately apply a 25% solution of triclopyr or glyphosate and water to the cross-section of the stem. This procedure remains effective at low temperatures as long as the ground is not frozen. A subsequent foliar application may be necessary to control new seedlings. Foliar Spray Method: This method could be used to control large populations. It may be neces-sary to precede foliar applications with stump treatments to reduce the risk of dam-aging non-target species. After the stems and leaves have been brought under control (i.e., all above ground portions of the plants have been effectively treated) further treatment should follow the Root Crown Method. Apply a 2% concentration of triclopyr or glyphosate and water to thoroughly wet all foliage. Do not apply so heavily that herbicide will drip off leaves. A 0.5% concentration of a non-ionic surfactant is recommended in order to penetrate leaf cuticle. Ambient air temperature should be above 65?F. Root Crown Method: Follow the young or resprouting stem of the plant to the root. Dig and cut into the root crown using a pulaski or similar tool. Apply a 50% glyphosate solution or 50% triclopyr solution to the main root crown and any below ground runners.USE PESTICIDES WISELY: ALWAYS READ THE ENTIRE PESTICIDE LABEL CAREFULLY, FOLLOW ALL MIXING AND APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS AND WEAR ALL RECOMMENDED PERSONAL PROTECTIVE GEAR AND CLOTHING. CONTACT YOUR STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOR ANY ADDITIONAL PESTICIDE USE REQUIREMENTS, RESTRICTIONS OR RECOMMENDATIONS. MENTION OF PESTICIDE PRODUCTS ON THIS WEB SITE DOES NOT CONSTITUTE ENDORSEMENT OF ANY MATERIAL.
McKnight, B.N., ed. 1993. Biological Pollution. Indiana Academy of Sciences, Indianapolis, IN. 261 pp.
Miller, J.H. and B. Edwards. 1982. Kudzu: Where did it come from? And how can we stop it? Southern Journal of Applied Forestry. Pp. 165-169.
Randall, J.M. and J. Marinelli. 1996. Invasive Plants:Weeds of the Global Garden. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Club, Inc. Handbook No. 149. 111 pp.
Virginia Native Plant Society. 1995. Invasive alien plant species of Virginia: kudzu [Pueraria lobata (Willd.) Ohwi]. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Richmond, Virginia.
APWG WeedUS Database
The Quiet Invasion: A Guide to Invasive Plants of the Galveston Bay Area (www.galvbayinvasives.org). Lisa Gonzalez and Jeff DallaRosa. Houston Advanced Research Center, 2006.
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