Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is a climbing, semi-woody, perennial vine in the pea family (Fabaceae).
Deciduous leaves are alternate and compound, with three broad leaflets up to 4 inches across. Leaflets may be entire or deeply 2-3 lobed with hairy margins. Individual flowers, about 1/2 inch long, are purple, highly fragrant and borne in long hanging clusters. Flowering occurs in late summer and is soon followed by production of brown, hairy, flattened, seed pods, each of which contains three to ten hard seeds.
Native to eastern Asia, this invasive vine has colonized much of the southeastern United States, infesting approximately 30,000 sq. km. per year at a cost of over $500 million per year to the US economy in the form of lost crop and forests productivity, expenditures for control, and damage to property. 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 1/2 to 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 (30) vines may grow from a single root crown. Not surprisingly, kudzu is considered one of the 100 worst bioinvaders in the world.
It was first introduced into the U.S. in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it was promoted as a forage crop and an ornamental plant. From 1935 to the mid-1950s, farmers in the south were encouraged to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps planted it widely for many years.
For successful long term control, its extensive root system must be destroyed, as any remaining root crowns can lead to reinfestation of an area.
A native of Asia, Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is among the most widespread and abundant invasive weeds in the eastern United States. Although its stronghold in North America is in the southeastern United States, its range extends into the northeastern and northcentral United States as well. The deciduous vines arise from massive perennial starchy root crowns, which can reach down to 4 m deep in the soil and weigh up to 136 kg. These massive roots provide energy for rapid initial growth in spring. Kudzu dies back to the ground after a hard freeze, but maximal growth rate in spring has been reported to be around 0.3 m per day and a plant may grow 20 to 30 m in a growing season. The fragrant purple flowers typically appear only on vines that are growing vertically on some support. Flowers occur on pseudoracemes, unusual inflorescences in which multiple flowers emerge from each bract axil.
Before Kudzu's invasive potential was recognized, it was repeatedly introduced into the southeastern United States for use as an ornamental and forage crop and for erosion control (Mitich 2000). Its subsequent rapid spread occurred despite conspicuously low seed set. Plants rarely flower before their third year and in some North American populations flowering is rarely if ever observed. In other areas, vines produce many flowers, but these often yield low numbers of seed pods or seed pods containing few seeds. In North America, many Kudzu populations sustain heavy losses to seed predators. Harvey (2009) documented the presence of extrafloral nectaries (EFNs) in Kudzu underneath the lateral floral peduncles. He speculated that documented herbivore-induced low seed set might result from a disruption of the protection normally afforded by ants attracted to EFNs. The atypical, near-monospecific stands of Kudzu in its introduced range may support a low diversity of ants or the ant species that typically visit Kudzu EFNs in its introduced range may not be as effective as those in its native range at finding or using the EFNs or are otherwise less effective as herbivore deterrents.
Kudzu is widely viewed as a seriously invasive plant in the United States, covering (often densely) over 1.2 to 2.8 million ha and this area has been estimated to be increasing on the order of 50,000 ha per year. Over time, Kudzu can cover large areas of potentially productive forest and farmland, resulting in estimated losses of $100 to 500 million per year. It is not yet clear what, if any, impact the recent arrival in the southeastern United States of the plataspid bug Megacopta cribraria (one of many herbivores feeding on Kudzu in Asia) may have on Kudzu (or other native and non-native hosts, including Soybean). If M. cribraria depletes Kudzu root reserves and reduces its ability to climb, this could benefit southern forests as well as farmers, utility companies, and railroads that must deal with Kudzu encroaching on their land, climbing utility poles, and growing across their tracks.
Kudzu is a common food crop in Java, Sumatra, and Malay, is well adapted to Puerto Rico, and grows in scattered parts of South America (Mitich 2000). Keung (2002) reviewed the entire genus Pueraria (which includes around 15 species).
(Mitich 2000 and references therein; Keung 2002; Harvey 2009 and references therein; Zhang et al. 2012 and references therein)
History in the United States
Kudzu was introduced into the U.S. in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it was promoted as a forage crop and an ornamental plant. From 1935 to the mid-1950s, farmers in the south were encouraged to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps planted it widely for many years. Kudzu was recognized as a pest weed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and, in 1953, was removed from its list of permissible cover plants.
History in the United States
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Kudzu originated in China and was brought to the United States from Japan in the late 1800s [34,66]. It is distributed throughout much of the eastern United States and is most common in the South. It occurs from Nebraska, Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts south to Florida and Texas. Kudzu also occurs in Hawaii [2,15,19,20,23,24,25,38,45,49,50,53,59]. Estimated kudzu cover in the Southeast is 7 million acres (2.8 million hectares), with the most extensive infestations in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia . The Plants database provides a distributional map of kudzu.
Kudzu has periodically been reported in areas disjunct from the above description, but has not become established in any of these areas as of this writing (2002) . It has recently been discovered near Portland, Oregon, and efforts to eradicate the population are underway .
The following biogeographic classification systems are presented as a guide to demonstrate where kudzu could potentially be found. Because the ecology of kudzu in North America has not been extensively studied, precise distribution information is lacking. Therefore these lists are somewhat speculative and may not be exhaustive or complete.
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
Occurrence in North America
Distribution in the United States
Kudzu is common throughout most of the southeastern U.S. and has been found as far north as Pennsylvania.
Distribution and Habitat in the United States
Kudzu is a climbing or trailing, herbaceous to semiwoody, nonnative, deciduous, perennial vine or liana. The compound leaves are 2 to 8 inches (5-20 cm) long [37,45]. Flowers are 0.8 to 1 inch (2-2.5 cm) long and are borne on 4- to 8-inch-long (10-20 cm) axillary racemes . Seeds are produced in 1.6- to 2-inch (4-5 cm) long pods [37,45].
Kudzu exhibits a strong diurnal pattern in leaflet orientation, enabling plants to adjust the intensity of incident radiation upon exposed leaflets by altering their axial position relative to the sun. This trait results in comparatively reduced leaf temperatures and transpirational water loss during periods of intense mid-day summer sunlight, and may improve plant water-use efficiency [14,64]. This trait may also improve light penetration in kudzu-dominated tree canopies, enhancing the specie's ability to maintain high leaf areas. High leaf area in arboreal kudzu maximizes photosynthesis and enhances kudzu's ability to compete for light .
Kudzu accumulates and maintains substantial carbon reserves in large woody, tuberous roots. Roots can grow to 12 feet (3.6 meters) long in sandy soils and can weigh up to several hundred pounds . Because of its large and deeply growing taproot, kudzu can withstand substantial periods of drought . Deep roots also enable kudzu to maintain relatively high xylem water potentials throughout the hottest part of the day .
Kudzu is considered a semiwoody perennial because it exhibits 2 strategies for overwintering. The trailing, prostrate stems found in open areas die back to the root crown following the 1st frost. Stems that climb vertically, such as those invading a forest edge, often overwinter in the canopy. Overwintering vines develop thick bark, accumulate annual rings of vascular tissue, and can attain > 0.8-inch (2 cm) stem diameters [44,57]. North American kudzu apparently produces overwintering stems only on vigorous, climbing plants, but in Japan kudzu produces overwintering stems even on prostrate plants .
Growth habit: Vines climb by twining the stem around a support such as the bole of a tree . Spread of kudzu through forested areas may be accelerated by other vines such as Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), since kudzu can more easily twine around smaller diameter vines than around bare tree trunks [33,35].
Kudzu ia a climbing, semi-woody, perennial vine in the pea family. Deciduous leaves are alternate and compound, with three broad leaflets up to 4 inches across. Leaflets may be entire or deeply 2-3 lobed with hairy margins. Individual flowers, about ½ inch long, are purple, highly fragrant and borne in long hanging clusters. Flowering occurs in late summer and is soon followed by production of brown, hairy, flattened, seed pods, each of which contains three to ten hard seeds.
Description and Biology
- Plant: climbing perennial vine in the pea family (Fabaceae); vines may extend 32-100 ft. in length, with stems up to 4 in. in diameter; roots are fleshy, with massive tap roots that can get to 7 in. or more in diameter, 6 ft. or more in length, and weigh as much as 400 lbs.; up to 30 vines may grow from a single plant.
- Leaves: alternate, deciduous, and compound, with three broad leaflets up to 4 in. across, leaflets may be entire or lobed with hairy margins.
- Flowers, fruits and seeds: individual flowers, about ½ in. long, are purple, fragrant and borne in upright clusters during late summer; fruits are brown, hairy, flattened seed pods, each of which may contain as many as ten hard seeds.
- Spreads: expands locally by vegetative means through runners & rhizomes and by vines that root at the nodes to form new plants; may spread by seed in areas where a pollinator, the giant resin bee, occurs.
- Look-alikes: Thick tangles of various vines including grape, porcelainberry and bittersweet may be mistaken for kudzu as well as some native three-leaved vines in the pea family.
Key Plant Community Associations
Kudzu is most invasive in the Southeast. Factors that determine occurrence
and invasiveness are most likely climate, light availability, and previous local
establishment. The particular local native plant community probably has little influence on
kudzu distribution and invasiveness. Even core areas of otherwise undisturbed,
insular forest habitat can eventually succumb, as invading kudzu slowly advances
from established populations along a forest perimeter. Any southeastern plant
communities in the vicinity of an existing kudzu population -- from pine plantations to mixed
hardwoods -- are likely to be at risk of
Kudzu is not a climax dominant or indicator species in habitat type
classifications. However, due to its ability to achieve and maintain dominance on many
sites where it occurs, kudzu might be considered the de facto climax dominant on
these sites, regardless of site potential.
Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):
More info for the terms: cover, fresh, hardwood, marsh
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
601 Bluestem prairie
711 Bluestem-sacahuista prairie
731 Cross timbers-Oklahoma
802 Missouri prairie
803 Missouri glades
804 Tall fescue
806 Gulf Coast salt marsh
807 Gulf Coast fresh marsh
808 Sand pine scrub
809 Mixed hardwood and pine
810 Longleaf pine-turkey oak hills
811 South Florida flatwoods
812 North Florida flatwoods
813 Cutthroat seeps
814 Cabbage palm flatwoods
815 Upland hardwood hammocks
817 Oak hammocks
818 Florida salt marsh
819 Freshwater marsh and ponds
821 Pitcher plant bogs
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the terms: cover, swamp
SAF COVER TYPES :
17 Pin cherry
19 Gray birch-red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine-hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
25 Sugar maple-beech-yellow birch
26 Sugar maple-basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry-maple
33 Red spruce-balsam fir
37 Northern white-cedar
39 Black ash-American elm-red maple
40 Post oak-blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
45 Pitch pine
46 Eastern redcedar
50 Black locust
51 White pine-chestnut oak
52 White oak-black oak-northern red oak
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
58 Yellow-poplar-eastern hemlock
59 Yellow-poplar-white oak-northern red oak
60 Beech-sugar maple
61 River birch-sycamore
62 Silver maple-American elm
65 Pin oak-sweetgum
69 Sand pine
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine-scrub oak
72 Southern scrub oak
73 Southern redcedar
74 Cabbage palmetto
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine-oak
78 Virginia pine-oak
79 Virginia pine
80 Loblolly pine-shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine-hardwood
83 Longleaf pine-slash pine
84 Slash pine
85 Slash pine-hardwood
88 Willow oak-water oak-diamondleaf (laurel) oak
89 Live oak
91 Swamp chestnut oak-cherrybark oak
92 Sweetgum-willow oak
93 Sugarberry-American elm-green ash
94 Sycamore-sweetgum-American elm
95 Black willow
96 Overcup oak-water hickory
97 Atlantic white-cedar
98 Pond pine
103 Water tupelo-swamp tupelo
104 Sweetbay-swamp tupelo-redbay
108 Red maple
110 Black oak
111 South Florida slash pine
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
KUCHLER  PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K073 Northern cordgrass prairie
K074 Bluestem prairie
K077 Bluestem-sacahuista prairie
K078 Southern cordgrass prairie
K079 Palmetto prairie
K080 Marl everglades
K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100
K083 Cedar glades
K088 Fayette prairie
K089 Black Belt
K090 Live oak-sea oats
K100 Oak-hickory forest
K102 Beech-maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K108 Northern hardwoods-spruce forest
K109 Transition between K104 and K106
K110 Northeastern oak-pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
K115 Sand pine scrub
Kudzu is typically found in open, disturbed areas such as abandoned fields, roadsides, and forest edges [14,61]. Spread is most rapid in open areas, and is slowed as kudzu encounters the shade of a forest edge . Kudzu monocultures typically contain thousands of individual plants per acre .
Kudzu is most prolific in areas where winters are mild (40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (4-16 Â°C)), summer temperatures rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 Â°C), the growing season is long, and annual precipitation is > 40 inches (1,000 mm) [51,66]. Kudzu thrives in areas that experience abundant sunny weather during the growing season. Growth rates up to 3 times greater have been demonstrated on sunny days, compared to overcast conditions. Photosynthesis is not inhibited by high temperatures until 86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (30-35 Â°C) .
Kudzu grows on a variety of soil types [51,66], but performs best on deep, well-drained, loamy soils . Because kudzu is a nitrogen-fixing plant, it is likely to be competitive on nitrogen-deficient sites .
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES41 Wet grasslands
Habitat in the United States
Kudzu grows well under a wide range of conditions and in most soil types. Preferred habitats are forest edges, abandoned fields, roadsides, and disturbed areas, where sunlight is abundant. Kudzu grows best where winters are mild, summer temperatures are above 80 degrees Farenheit, and annual rainfall is 40 inches or more.
Fire Management Considerations
Because fire may promote kudzu seed germination [33,39,55,56], managers should be aware of the potential for emergence of new plants following burning. Young kudzu plants are relatively easy to eradicate because they have not yet developed the extensive taproots of older plants. Miller  recommends burning after herbicide treatments to encourage germination of the kudzu seedbank, which can then be eliminated with a follow-up herbicide treatment. Burning as a follow-up to herbicide treatment can also bolster rapid recolonization of the site by native plants by removing litter and increasing light availability . Dense kudzu litter remaining after herbicide treatments has been shown to inhibit germination of the residual native seedbank .
Burning may also be used to prepare sites for more efficient herbicide application, and to reveal size and density of root crowns previously hidden under dense litter [11,33]. Burning kudzu prior to other management activities can also reveal uneven terrain and other potential hazards previously hidden by dense mats of vegetation and litter .
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
Because kudzu sprouts rapidly and vigorously after fire, questions
concerning susceptibility of foliage and stems to growing season fire may be
largely moot. Conditions likely to promote a surface fire of sufficient
severity to kill mature, well-developed root crowns, while theoretically
possible, have not been documented as of this writing (2002).
Plant Response to Fire
Kudzu sprouts from the root crown after fire. It quickly reestablishes following dormant-season fire, in some cases returning to previous levels of dominance by the 2nd postfire growing season [43,44].
There is speculation that the heat pulse from a ground fire may promote kudzu seed germination by increasing seedcoat permeability [33,39,55,56]. Laboratory experiments have demonstrated that seed dormancy may be broken by exposure to high temperatures, which promotes seedcoat scarification and allows permeability to water [55,56]. Information on postfire kudzu seedling establishment is lacking.
Broad-scale Impacts of Fire
Green kudzu foliage probably does not burn well due to high water content. Growing season fire may top-kill kudzu foliage if enough combustible fuel is present to carry the burn . Litter from vegetation that has recently succumbed to kudzu competition, especially persistent woody material, could provide substantial fuel. As of this writing (2002), there are no published descriptions of fire effects on kudzu.
Immediate Effect of Fire
Dormant-season fire top-kills live, overwintering, canopy-draped vines , and can also kill root crowns of small, newly established plants .
Fire adaptations: Kudzu escapes fire damage by maintaining perennating root crowns beneath the soil surface . Kudzu stems and foliage are likely to resist fire damage during the growing season because they typically maintain high water content. Even during drought when nearby plants may be susceptible to fire due to desiccation, kudzu's deep taproot allows the plant to maintain a relatively high water content [64,66].
Soil heating as a result of fire may promote seed germination by scarifying the seedcoat, allowing water to penetrate into the seed [33,39,55,56]. In addition, dry kudzu litter can provide substantial fuel for dormant-season surface fires, perhaps providing a positive feedback in promoting seed germination. More research is needed to help understand the role of fire in promoting kudzu seed germination and postfire seedling establishment.
FIRE REGIMES: Because kudzu tends to be more opportunistic than predictable in its occurrence, it is difficult to ascribe particular FIRE REGIMES to it. To the extent that abundant, moist, green kudzu foliage can inhibit fire, kudzu may alter historic FIRE REGIMES by lengthening fire return intervals. Conversely, substantial fuel loading from dense mats of kudzu litter may enhance dormant-season fire potential. Additionally, the presence of kudzu in forest canopies may provide ladder fuels that enhance the likelihood of crown fires, particularly in areas where frequent surface fires may otherwise maintain seral pine or oak dominants. As kudzu invades shrub and forest communities, increases in standing and ground-layer fuels from dead woody plants that have succumbed to invasion could also increase fire intensity and severity. These scenarios are speculative. However, if kudzu continues as an important presence on the landscape, more research is need to determine how kudzu affects the fire ecology of native communities and ecosystems.
The following table lists fire return intervals for communities or ecosystems throughout North America where kudzu may occur. This list is meant as a guideline to illustrate historic FIRE REGIMES and is not to be interpreted as a strict description of FIRE REGIMES for kudzu.
|Community or Ecosystem||Dominant Species||Fire Return Interval Range (years)|
|silver maple-American elm||A. saccharinum-Ulmus americana|
|sugar maple||A. saccharum||> 1000|
|sugar maple-basswood||A. saccharum-Tilia americana||> 1000 |
|bluestem prairie||Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium||26,41]|
|bluestem-Sacahuista prairie||A. littoralis-Spartina spartinae||41]|
|mangrove||Avicennia nitida-Rhizophora mangle||35-200 |
|sugarberry-America elm-green ash||Celtis laevigata-Ulmus americana-Fraxinus pennsylvanica|
|Atlantic white-cedar||Chamaecyparis thyoides||35 to > 200 |
|northern cordgrass prairie||Distichlis spicata-Spartina spp.||1-3 |
|beech-sugar maple||Fagus spp.-Acer saccharum||> 1000|
|black ash||Fraxinus nigra|
|shortleaf pine||Pinus echinata||2-15|
|shortleaf pine-oak||P. echinata-Quercus spp.|
|slash pine||P. elliottii||3-8|
|slash pine-hardwood||P. elliottii-variable|
|sand pine||P. elliottii var. elliottii||25-45 |
|South Florida slash pine||P. elliottii var. densa||1-5 [16,40]|
|longleaf-slash pine||P. palustris-P. elliottii||1-4 [40,62]|
|longleaf pine-scrub oak||P. palustris-Quercus spp.||6-10 |
|pitch pine||P. rigida||6-25 [5,22]|
|pond pine||P. serotina||3-8|
|eastern white pine||P. strobus||35-200|
|eastern white pine-eastern hemlock||P. strobus-Tsuga canadensis||35-200|
|eastern white pine-northern red oak-red maple||P. strobus-Quercus rubra-Acer rubrum||35-200|
|loblolly pine||P. taeda||3-8|
|loblolly-shortleaf pine||P. taeda-P. echinata||10 to|
|Virginia pine||P. virginiana||10 to|
|Virginia pine-oak||P. virginiana-Quercus spp.||10 to|
|sycamore-sweetgum-American elm||Platanus occidentalis-Liquidambar styraciflua-Ulmus americana||62]|
|eastern cottonwood||Populus deltoides||41]|
|black cherry-sugar maple||Prunus serotina-Acer saccharum||> 1000|
|northeastern oak-pine||Quercus-Pinus spp.||10 to 62]|
|oak-gum-cypress||Quercus-Nyssa-spp.-Taxodium distichum||35 to > 200 |
|southeastern oak-pine||Quercus-Pinus spp.|
|white oak-black oak-northern red oak||Q. alba-Q. velutina-Q. rubra|
|bear oak||Q. ilicifolia|
|bur oak||Q. macrocarpa||62]|
|oak savanna||Q. macrocarpa/Andropogon gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium||2-14 [41,62]|
|chestnut oak||Q. prinus||3-8|
|northern red oak||Q. rubra||10 to|
|post oak-blackjack oak||Q. stellata-Q. marilandica|
|black oak||Q. velutina|
|live oak||Q. virginiana||10 to62]|
|cabbage palmetto-slash pine||Sabal palmetto-Pinus elliottii||40,62]|
|Fayette prairie||Schizachyrium scoparium-Buchloe dactyloides|
|southern cordgrass prairie||Spartina alterniflora||1-3 |
|baldcypress||Taxodium distichum var. distichum||100 to > 300|
|pondcypress||T. distichum var. nutans||40]|
|eastern hemlock-yellow birch||Tsuga canadensis-Betula alleghaniensis||> 200 |
More info for the term: vine
Kudzu is generally considered shade intolerant. A study at the University of Maryland showed that kudzu had the highest light requirement of 5 native and 3 exotic vine species of the Southeast, and establishment appears to be greatly inhibited under shaded, forest floor conditions . While growth is slowed under shaded conditions, kudzu does have some ability to tolerate low irradiance levels [13,16]. This trait enables kudzu to maintain a competitively high leaf area index within a forest canopy, and to grow through several canopy layers before overtopping overstory trees .
Although kudzu is typically found in disturbed habitats, it can invade along edges of forested areas, enveloping, suppressing, and eventually killing mature trees. Kudzu monocultures can arrest successional development of native plant communities. Although kudzu has been established in North America for nearly a century, there are no published reports as of this writing (2002) that document long-term successional patterns in kudzu-dominated communities. Because kudzu spreads largely by asexual means in North America, populations are generally localized .
Asexual regeneration: Kudzu commonly spreads by sending down roots from nearly every node along stems that contact soil. Rooting usually occurs every few feet along horizontal stems, and new root crowns develop at these nodes. New ramets develop the following spring, with new tendrils radiating in all directions from newly established root crowns [33,39,44].
Breeding system: No information
Pollination: No information
Seed production: Kudzu plants do not usually flower until their 3rd year . Kudzu rarely flowers on prostrate vines and seeds are only produced on climbing vines [11,33,39]. Generally, a cluster of seedpods produces only 1 or 2 viable seeds . Seed production is substantially limited in North America, especially in areas outside the Southeast [19,20,51].
Seed dispersal: No information
Germination: Seeds are unable to germinate until the seedcoats are rendered water permeable. Dormancy may be broken by physical scarification of seeds. Prolonged exposure to warm summer temperatures may promote germination by increasing seedcoat permeability, but detailed information is lacking [55,56].
Seedling establishment/growth: Kudzu reportedly sets seed infrequently in North America [51,66]. It is speculated that kudzu seedlings are far less competitive than asexually established ramets, and may be of minor concern regarding invasiveness . The ecology of kudzu sexual reproduction in North America is little studied and more research is needed in this area.
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
More info for the terms: chamaephyte, phanerophyte
RAUNKIAER  LIFE FORM:
Life History and Behavior
Seasonal development varies with latitude and altitude. Leaf emergence occurs in late spring . Shoot biomass and leaf area index peak near the end of June in the Georgia Piedmont. Stem elongation and leaf production are continuous throughout the growing season, but production varies with conditions . Flowering occurs from late July through September, depending on location [13,14,37]. Seeds mature in fall [11,37,45]. Foliage is generally killed by the 1st fall frost, and plants are dormant until spring .
Biology and 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.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Pueraria montana var. lobata
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pueraria montana var. lobata
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pueraria lobata
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 11
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: TNR - Not Yet Ranked
U.S. Federal Legal Status
No special status
Impacts and Control
Impacts: Kudzu invasion can have severe negative impacts on native plant communities. Because of its rapid growth rate and habit of growing over objects in its path, kudzu can outcompete native plants and quickly dominate habitats where it becomes established . Kudzu infestations are typified by a continuous blanket of monospecific foliage resulting in large-scale alteration of biotic communities . Patches larger than 100 acres (40 ha) now exist in some areas of the South . Plant densities in mature stands may be 1-2 plants per square foot or tens of thousands of plants per acre .
Spreading kudzu infestations can eliminate forest cover by enveloping trees along margins of wooded areas. Trees of any size may succumb to competition from arboreal kudzu vines, whose prodigious foliage reduces light availability within the canopy. Infested trees, especially shade-intolerant species such as native pines, are weakened from reduced carbon fixation. Additionally, the accumulation of several years' worth of vines draped within tree crowns provides enough downward tension that even large trees can be pulled to the ground. Once kudzu has gained access to the forest canopy, it is capable of spreading more quickly and aggressively throughout a contiguously forested area during subsequent growing seasons . Presence of Japanese honeysuckle and other arboreal vines can exacerbate kudzu invasiveness. Because kudzu climbs by twining, it can ascend and spread into a forest canopy faster and more extensively by utilizing smaller-diameter vines rather than having to twine around larger-diameter tree boles [33,35].
Kudzu has been characterized as "perhaps the largest nonwoody weed problem in forest management in the South" . Kudzu infestation can be costly to commercial timber producers by severely impacting productivity. While eradication treatments can be expensive, allowing kudzu to continue spreading only increases the acreage impacted and increases the difficulty (and expense) of eradicating older, denser, more intractable infestations .
Control: Because kudzu is so invasive, control is best equated with kudzu eradication [32,34]. To ensure complete eradication from a site and prevent reinvasion, every root crown must be killed . Well-established stands may require as long as ten years to eradicate .
Kudzu eradication becomes increasingly difficult with increasing age of infestation [32,33,35]. Because kudzu develops large roots that store accumulated starch, older plants may be more resistant to control efforts and require more persistent or intensive management . Vines that have spread vertically into tree canopies are thought to be more vigorous and to sequester starch reserves more rapidly and in greater quantity than prostrate-growing vines [11,33].
Weakening and eventual eradication of kudzu usually requires frequent defoliation by a single or several methods . If managers are limited to a single defoliation treatment per year, it should be conducted in early fall (September in most areas). Kudzu allocates nearly all its resources to stem and foliar growth during the growing season, allocating few resources to root storage until near the end of the growing season. Kudzu recovers from defoliation by allocating root-stored resources to rapidly resume vigorous foliage growth. Defoliation activities conducted during the growing season can help deplete root energy stores and decrease plant vigor. However, fall defoliation is important to reduce resource allocation to roots, and hopefully gain substantial momentum toward eventual eradication .
For more information on kudzu control methods, see Mississippi State University Extension Service, Bugwood's Controlling Kudzu in CRP Stands, Controlling Kudzu in Western North Carolina, Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council, Kudzu in Alabama, and the Virginia Natural Heritage Program websites.
Prevention: No information
Integrated management: No information
Physical/mechanical: Physical or mechanical methods that destroy kudzu foliage can weaken the plant by simultaneously limiting photosynthesis and depleting root-stored energy reserves. For these methods to be effective, especially when used alone, managers should be prepared to apply them persistently and frequently, often for several years. For old, well-established stands, these methods are likely to be ineffective or require many years of intensive application. They are more likely to be effective when used in combination with herbicides.
The time required for eradication is a function of how long it takes to deplete root energy stores. Small, recently established patches (< 10 years old) can be eliminated by persistent weeding or mowing over a period of several (3-4) years . Frequent mowing or cutting, ideally at 2-week intervals, weakens root crowns and inhibits photosynthesis . Frequent mowing can be efficient and effective as long as all root crowns are in areas that are accessible .
Disking or cultivating infestations before and after chemical control efforts weakens plants and enhances herbicide effectiveness . Cultivation may be inappropriate in natural areas or on steep or rocky terrain.
Individual plants may be hand pulled, but the entire root crown must be removed to prevent re-establishment . Root systems of small, initial infestations can be excavated with a Pulaski or similar digging tool. All plant material should be removed from the site and destroyed by burning or bagging .
Fire: See Fire Management Considerations.
Biological: Intensive grazing can be an effective control measure, where appropriate. Young infestations (< 25 years old) are easier to control with grazing than older stands that have developed very large roots. Steady aboveground herbivory will gradually deplete root energy reserves, inhibit accumulation of new carbon stores by suppressing the amount of photosynthetic tissue, and prevent foliage from spreading into previously uninfested areas. Grazing kudzu infestations for 1 to 2 years prior to herbicide application can help to weaken plants, potentially making chemical control efforts more effective [33,34].
Chemical: Where appropriate, herbicides may be the most effective means of eradicating kudzu, whether used alone or in combination with other methods. Below is a list of herbicides that have been tested and judged effective for controlling kudzu in North America, as well as a brief discussion of important considerations regarding their use. This is not intended as an exhaustive review of chemical control methods. For more information regarding appropriate use of herbicides against invasive plant species in natural areas, see The Nature Conservancy's Weed Control Methods Handbook. For more information specific to herbicide use against kudzu, see Kudzu Eradication and Management, Bugwood's Controlling Kudzu in CRP Stands, Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council, or the Kudzu in Alabama website.
|picloram [8,10,32,35]||Perhaps the most (overall) effective chemical tested against kudzu [32,35,48]. Specific to broadleaf species; generally does not harm grasses . May be mobile in soil solution and can leach into nearby surface water [31,58].|
|clopyralid [29,48]||More selective than picloram. Has little effect on members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) and several other groups of broad-leaf plants, as well as grasses and other monocots. Chemically similar to picloram. Has a shorter half-life, but is more water soluble and has lower soil adsorption capacity .|
|triclopyr [29,35,48]||Effective against arboreally established kudzu when applied to vines and foliage around the base of affected trees .|
|methyl 2- benzoate |
|picloram + 2,4-D [32,35]|
|glyphosate [51,61]||Nonselective. "Cut-stump" method may be used to reduce mortality of neighboring native plants. For details see Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council. Low toxicity to animals and relatively immobile in soil. Glyphosate itself may be the least potentially harmful of the above chemicals to the environment, although many surfactants or other adjuvants in some formulations are toxic .|
Single applications of herbicides can reduce kudzu foliage by up to 2 orders of magnitude. However, continued spot treatment is usually required for several years for complete eradication due to recalcitrant root crowns and substantial root-sequestered carbon reserves that enable kudzu to resprout. Diligent monitoring and follow-up treatments may be required for 10 or more years on some sites [33,42]. Regrowth from surviving root crowns may often be delayed until 2 years after herbicide treatment, with no signs of survival during the 1st growing season. Several years of post-treatment monitoring and retreatment may be needed to ensure 100% mortality [33,48].
In general, herbicides are most effective against kudzu when applied after late May , although triclopyr was effective against tree-draped vines when applied in spring prior to the appearance of new growth . Herbicides such as those listed above are likely to be most effective when applied near the end of the growing season when plants are translocating stem and foliar nutrients to root systems for dormant season storage . Dormant-season herbicide application appears to be ineffective in controlling kudzu .
Higher herbicide application rates may be required for effective control on clayey or rocky soils or when infestations are older than 10 years [30,33,35]. Kudzu populations growing in a prostrate form, compared with plants growing vertically, are thought to be less vigorous and may be controlled using lower application rates [33,48].
Cultural: Planting grass in the fall following herbicide treatment has been recommended in order to stabilize soil and to provide competition against weakened kudzu plants and other weed species that may be present. Grasses are not injured by some herbicides that can kill kudzu (e.g., picloram or clopyralid) .Planting competing vegetation that provides shade to treated sites, such as dense plantings of pine seedlings, can improve the effectiveness of repeated herbicide treatments , potentially reducing treatment duration.
Prevention and Control
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Kudzu has potential value as livestock forage [7,65]; however, it is easily overbrowsed, and its utility may not be sustainable . Moreover, while it has been previously cultivated for livestock use and grazing can be an effective control measure (see Biological Control section below), kudzu has been identified as an invasive pest plant throughout the South. It is not recommended for cultivation for any purposes [11,51,61].
Kudzu seeds are a favored food for northern bobwhite, comprising 61.4% of the January and February diet of birds studied on an abandoned agricultural site in the Georgia Piedmont .
Palatability/nutritional value: Kudzu has comparable nutritional value to alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) hays. The following table provides information on nutritional value of kudzu :
|Crude protein (% of dry matter)||17.5||10.3||8.6|
|Neutral-detergent Fiber (% of dry matter)||48.1||73.7||39.8|
|Acid-detergent Fiber (% of dry matter)||38.2||44.0||53.3|
|Ash (% of dry matter)||8.3||7.9||4.3|
|Ca (% of dry matter)||0.7||0.1||0.4|
|Fe (mg kg-1)||162.3||156.6||3,600|
|K (% of dry matter)||1.0||1.0||0.3|
|Mg (% of dry matter)||0.3||<0.1||0.1|
Cover value: No information
Other uses and values
Ecological Threat in the United States
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 ½-4 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.
Ecological Threat in the United States
Kudzu (//, also called Japanese arrowroot,) is a group of plants in the genus Pueraria, in the pea family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. They are climbing, coiling, and trailing perennial vines native to much of eastern Asia, southeast Asia, and some Pacific Islands. The name comes from the Japanese name for the plants, kuzu (クズ or 葛?), which was written "kudzu" in historical romanizations. Where these plants are naturalized, they can be invasive, and are considered noxious weeds. The plant climbs over trees or shrubs, and grows so rapidly that it kills them by heavy shading. The plant is edible, but often sprayed with herbicides.
- 1 Taxonomy and nomenclature
- 2 Propagation
- 3 Uses
- 4 Invasive species
- 5 Control
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Taxonomy and nomenclature
The name kudzu describes one or more species in the genus Pueraria that are closely related, and some of them are considered to be varieties rather than full species. The morphological differences between them are subtle, they can breed with each other, and it appears that introduced kudzu populations in the United States have ancestry from more than one of the species. They are:
- P. montana
- P. lobata (P. montana var. lobata)
- P. edulis
- P. phaseoloides
- P. thomsonii (P. montana var. chinensis)
- P. tuberosa
Kudzu spreads by vegetative reproduction, via stolons (runners) that root at the nodes to form new plants and by rhizomes. Kudzu will also spread by seeds, which are contained in pods and mature in the autumn, although this is rare. One or two viable seeds are produced per cluster of pods. The hard-coated seeds may not germinate for several years, which can result in the reappearance of the species years after it was thought eradicated at a site.
Soil improvement and preservation
Kudzu has been used as a form of erosion control and also to enhance the soil. As a legume, it increases the nitrogen in the soil via a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Its deep taproots also transfer valuable minerals from the subsoil to the topsoil, thereby improving the topsoil. In the deforested section of the central Amazon Basin in Brazil, it has been used for improving the soil pore-space in clay latosols, thus freeing even more water for plants than in the soil prior to deforestation.
Kudzu can be used by grazing animals, as it is high in quality as a forage and palatable to livestock. It can be grazed until frost and even slightly after. Kudzu had been used in the southern United States specifically to feed goats on land that had limited resources. Kudzu hay typically has a 15–18% crude protein content and over 60% total digestible nutrient value. The quality of the leaves decreases, however, as vine content increases relative to the leaf content. Kudzu also has low forage yields despite its rate of growth, yielding around two to four tons of dry matter per acre annually. It is also difficult to bale due to its vining growth and its slowness in shedding water. This makes it necessary to place kudzu hay under sheltered protection after being baled. Kudzu is readily consumed by all types of grazing animals, yet frequent grazing over three to four years can ruin stands. Thus, kudzu only serves well as a grazing crop on a temporary basis.
Kudzu fiber has long been used for fiber art and basketry. The long runners which propagate the kudzu fields and the larger vines which cover trees make excellent weaving material. Some basketmakers use the material green. Others use it after splitting it in half, allowing it to dry and then re-hydrating it using hot water. Both traditional and contemporary basketry artists use kudzu.
|This section needs more medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources. (July 2012)|
Kudzu contains a number of useful isoflavones, including puerarin, approximately 60% of the total isoflavones, and also daidzein (an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent) and daidzin (structurally related to genistein). It has shown value in treating migraine and cluster headaches.[unreliable source?] It is recommended by some[who?] for allergies and diarrhea.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where it is known as gé gēn (Chinese: 葛根), kudzu is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs. It is used to treat tinnitus, vertigo, and Wei syndrome (superficial heat).
Kudzu has been used as a remedy for alcoholism and hangover. The root was used to prevent excessive consumption, while the flower was supposed to detoxify the liver and alleviate the symptoms afterwards. However, a 2007 study suggested that the use of the Kudzu root is inappropriate as a hangover remedy due to increased acetaldehyde accumulation through mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) inhibition. Some TCM hangover remedies are marketed with kudzu as one of their active ingredients.
Food and beverage
The roots contain starch, which has traditionally been used as a food ingredient in East Asia. In Vietnam, the starch called bột sắn dây is flavoured with pomelo oil and then used as a drink in the summer. In Japan, the plant is known as kuzu and the starch named kuzuko. Kuzuko is used in dishes including kuzumochi, mizu manjū, and kuzuyu. It also serves as a thickener for sauces, and can substitute for cornstarch.
Kudzu fiber, known as ko-hemp, is used traditionally to make clothing and paper, and has also been investigated for industrial-scale use. The stems are traditionally used for basketry.
Ecological damage and roles
Kudzu's environmental and ecological damage results from acting through "interference competition", meaning it out-competes other species for a resource. Kudzu competes with native flora for light, and acts to block their access to this vital resource by growing over them and shading them with their leaves. Plants may then die as a result, from being suffocated.
Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States at the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It is now common along roadsides and other disturbed areas  throughout most of the southeastern United States. It has been spreading at the rate of 150,000 acres (610 km2) annually.
Kudzu was discovered July 2009 in a patch 110 m (360 ft) wide and 30 m (98 ft) deep, on a south-facing slope on the shore of Lake Erie near Leamington, Ontario, about 50 km (31 mi) southeast of Windsor. Leamington is located in the second-warmest growing region of Canada after south coastal British Columbia.
Ecologist Gerald Waldron made the Leamington find while walking along the beach. He recognized the kudzu instantly, having read about its destructive expansion in the southeastern United States.
In New Zealand, kudzu was declared an "unwanted organism" and was added to the Biosecurity New Zealand register in 2002.
For successful long-term control of kudzu, it is not necessary to destroy the entire root system, which can be extremely large and deep. It is only necessary to use some method to kill or remove the kudzu root crown and all rooting runners. The root crown is a fibrous knob of tissue that sits on top of the root (rhizome). Crowns form from multiple vine nodes that root to the ground, and range from pea- to basketball-size. The older the crowns, the deeper they tend to be found in the ground, because the root grows deeper with age. Nodes and crowns are the source of all kudzu vines, and roots cannot produce vines. If any portion of a root crown remains after attempted removal, the kudzu plant may grow back.
Mechanical methods of control involve cutting off crowns from roots, usually just below ground level. This immediately kills the plant. Cutting off vines is not sufficient for an immediate kill. It is necessary to destroy all removed crown material. Buried crowns can regenerate into healthy kudzu. Transporting crowns in soil removed from a kudzu infestation is one common way that kudzu "miraculously" spreads and shows up in unexpected locations.
Close mowing every week, regular heavy grazing for many successive years, or repeated cultivation may be effective, as this serves to deplete root reserves. If done in the spring, cutting off vines must be repeated, as regrowth appears to exhaust the plant's stored carbohydrate reserves. Cut kudzu can be fed to livestock, burned, or composted; strides have been made in using it for vehicle fuel as ethanol.
The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, has undertaken a trial program using goats and llamas to graze on the plant. As of 2007[update], the goats are grazing along the Missionary Ridge area in the east of the city. Similar efforts to reduce widespread nuisance kudzu growth have also been undertaken in the cities of Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Tallahassee, Florida.
Prescribed burning is also used on old extensive infestations to remove vegetative cover and promote seed germination for removal or treatment. It is usually done to prepare for treatment of the root crowns. Landscape equipment, such as a skid loader ("Bobcat"), can also remove biomass. While fire is not an effective way to kill kudzu, equipment, such as skid loaders, can remove crowns and thereby kill kudzu with minimal disturbance of soil.
To properly manage kudzu, stem cutting should be immediately followed with the application of a systemic herbicide; for example, glyphosate, Triclopyr, or Tordon, directly on the cut stem. This process is an effective means of transporting the herbicide into the kudzu's extensive root system. The use of herbicides can be combined with other methods of eradication and control, such as mowing, grazing, or burning, which can allow for an easier application of the chemical to the weakened plants. In large-scale forestry infestations, soil-active herbicides have been shown to be highly effective.
After initial herbicidal treatment, follow-up treatments and monitoring are usually necessary, depending on how long the kudzu has been growing in the area. It may require up to 10 years of supervision, after the initial chemical placement, to make sure the plant does not return in the future.
Herbicides which have been proven to be effective to control kudzu are claimed to be "rather safe to humans, but generally lethal on most plants."
Since 1998, the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has experimented with using the fungus Myrothecium verrucaria as a biologically based herbicide against kudzu. A diacetylverrucarol spray based on M. verrucaria works under a variety of conditions (including the absence of dew), causes minimal injury to many of the other woody plants in kudzu-infested habitats, and takes effect quickly enough that kudzu treated with it in the morning starts showing evidence of damage by midafternoon. Initial formulations of the herbicide produced toxic levels of other trichothecenes as byproducts, though the ARS discovered growing M. verrucaria in a fermenter on a liquid instead of a solid diet limited or eliminated the problem.
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- Smithsonian MagazineKudzu: Love It or Run
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: The kudzu that is escaped widely in North America is called Pueraria lobata or Pueraria thunbergiana in most North American literature; Kartesz (1994 checklist) treats these plants as Pueraria montana var. lobata. No other varieties of Pueraria montana are reported from North America. LEM 3Jul95.
variously referred to as "kudzu" . The
currently accepted scientific name for the species of kudzu that has become
widely established throughout the southeastern United States is Pueraria montana (Lour.) Merr. var. lobata
(Willd.) Maesen &
S. Almeida (Fabaceae) [25,63,68]. Throughout
this summary, the common name "kudzu" refers to the above species.
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