Kudzu Vine Identification
Common & Botanical Name
Kudzu is a deciduous, semi-woody, perennial vine. It can grow up to 100 feet long. Young stems are yellowish green in color, with golden and silver hairs. Mature stems become very woody, gray to brown in color, and are entirely hairless. Several native vines can be mistaken for kudzu such as poison ivy, ground nut, hog peanut, grapes, wild cucumber, and bur-cucumber. Soybean leaves somewhat resemble kudzu as well. Some Midwestern states have yet to be invaded by the Kudzu vine, which makes it absolutely essential to prevent the transportation of seeds and roots across state borders.
A 50-year study was completed on the impact of kudzu which revealed stunning statistics. Co-author of the study, Manuel Lerdua, stated:
"Essentially what we found is that this biological invasion has the capacity to degrade air quality, and in all likelihood over time lead to increases in air pollution, increases in health problems caused by that air pollution, and decreases in agricultural productivity..."
Kudzu is very invasive along forest edges, prairies, fields, wetlands, and roadsides. The invasive vine prefers full sun, which attributes to its upward climbing characteristic. It can tolerate a little shade.
The leaves grow alternate each other, and are between 3 and 7 inches long and 2.5 to 8 inches wide. The leaves are also compound with 3 distinct leaflets, similar to poison ivy. Young leaves are hairy, while mature leaves retain hair only on the edges. Leaf stalks can be up to a 12 inches long.
The flowers are fragrant and pea-like. They are reddish-brown in color that reside on 6 inch spikes in the leaf axils. The flowers bloom from June to September.
The seeds are clustered in flat, brown, golden-haired pods that are about 2 to 3 inches long. Each pod contains up to 10 hard seeds. The viability of the seeds vary greatly.
The roots are starchy and tuberous. The tuberous roots can grow 12 inches deep, and spread by rooting at nodes that contact the ground.
Ecological Threats of Kudzu
Kudzu kills trees and shrubs by girdling them, which cuts off water and nutrient movement within the trees/shrubs. Kudzu can also kill trees and shrubs by shading them out, and can even break branches and uproot plants due to the vine's weight.
Mechanical eradication can be accomplished by mowing as close to ground level as possible, and mowing should occur once every month for several growing seasons. Burning mower clippings will also help destroy seeds, live stems, and roots. Mechanical control will be more effective if used in conjunction with chemical eradication measures.
Chemical eradication consists of foliar spray or stump treatments that contain clopyralid, triclopyr, metsulfuron methyl, or glyphosate. Directions on herbicide labels must always be followed correctly, and personal protection equipment must be used.