Species profile: Kudzu

Planting kudzu (Pueraria montana) in the United States to control erosion and as livestock feed seemed like a good idea at the time, but a lot of mistakes began with good intentions.  
Proud Kudzu planters from the early 1900s could not have known the future product of their efforts (Conservation Biology cover February 2003).

Ahhh kudzu, the plant that ate the south… It was only a matter of time until we tackled this botanical bane.  Kudzu was originally introduced to the US in the late 1800s and became popular in the South as a fragrantly flowered ornamental vine that could be grown rapidly to shade porches in the hot southern summers.  Further securing Kudzu’s future as the #1 invasive foliage, in the 1930s, Congress established the Soil Erosion Service (now the Natural Resource Conservation Service) and gave 85 million baby kudzu to landowners to ameliorate the environmental cost of improper agricultural practices.

Since its introduction from its native Japan and China, it has taken well to the warm and moist soils of the South and now grows wildly–crowding out native species.  Notorious for its rapid growth of as much as 1 meter/day under optimum conditions, it has been officially declared invasive in 21 of the 32 states it resides.  However, rampant kudzu growth can be controlled through destruction of its roots and crowns to curb vegetative propagation.

Luckily, kudzu is not only tasty for livestock, but also for human invasivores.  There already exist many recipes utilizing different parts of the plant out there in the world wide web, and kudzu can also be used in various crafts such as basket weaving.

Kudzu leaf and flower (Photo credit: David J. Moorhead, University of Georgia)
Distribution of kudzu in the United States. Image credit: EDDMapS. 2011. Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System. The University of Georgia - Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Available online at http://www.eddmaps.org/; last accessed December 08, 2011.


A self-proclaimed modern day nomad, I was born in the Philippines, grew up in southern California—lived all over really—and now I do research as a graduate student in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. Professionally speaking, my current area of focus is speciation and ecological genetics and genomics, and a common theme in my various projects over the years is evolution in agricultural systems. As a recipient of a GLOBES—an interdisciplinary program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Integrative Graduate Education, Research, and Traineeship grant (IGERT) —fellowship, I have received training which has better enabled me to view and ponder topics without my science hat on. I take great joy in eating, cooking, and experiencing nature through various activities. I love to travel and anticipate many local and international invasivore field trips! Though my research interests do not directly involve the study of invasive species, I have had my fair share of negative encounters with environmentally noxious organisms in the midst of doing field research. I carry around a machete with which to combat my gnarly “Himalayan” foes, and my machete and I have raised more than a few eyebrows. Apart from my personal vendetta against these deliciously juicy pests, I feel that there are great advantages to linking our awareness of the natural world to our culture, and Invasivore is an avenue to do just that. I feel that an increase in general knowledge of invasive species will be of great benefit to the field of invasive species and conservation biology. Knowledge and awareness will lead to action, and action will lead to results!

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