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Gardening 101: Kudzu

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Gardening 101: Kudzu

December 27, 2016

Kudzu, Pueraria lobata: “The Mean Green Machine”

Kudzu is an invasive vine of Japanese origin that is spreading across forests and rural areas in the US at the impressive rate of 150,000 acres annually. Take a hike through your local woods, and if you live in the South or on the Eastern seaboard, you may see rolling waves of kudzu covering trees like a great, leafy blanket. It has become a veritable epidemic especially in the South, choking out entire forests.

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Above: Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr via Wikimedia.

We would never have guessed that kudzu belongs to the same family as the pea. Peas are not conquering Napoleons of the plant kingdom. They are compliant in our backyards (and freezers, where we may use them as an icepack). While peas’ Asian cousin kudzu is like Attila the Hun when it arrives on a new continent, in Japan, it had a variety of productive uses. Kudzu’s thick fibers can be dried and woven, and have a texture similar to hemp. Its resilience made it ideal for baskets, paper, and long-lasting clothing.

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Above: Kudzu in flower on Maui. Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr via Wikimedia.

What’s more, kudzu is actually edible. Chinese herbalists use kudzu as a cure-all for alcoholism and even hangovers. It makes an excellent lunch for goats and other livestock, as long as it’s not covered in herbicide as it often is in the US.

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Above: Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr via Wikimedia.

Don’t be fooled by the deceptively pretty purple blossoms. Kudzu is not your friend. You do not want it in your backyard or in your neighborhood.

Cheat Sheet

  • Kudzu has fast-spreading green foliage with beguiling purple blossoms.
  • Kudzu does not play nice. It will swallow any companions.
  • Its growth pattern is climbing, coiling, and trailing.

Keep It Alive

  • Kudzu is an invasive, destructive vine that thrives in conditions ranging from shade to bright sun.
  • Does not require water.
  • Don’t plant it.

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Above: Kudzu covers a hillside in Japan. Photograph by Harum Kuh via Wikimedia.

Some gardeners try to fight kudzu takeovers by giving the invasive vine a taste of its own medicine. Smother the kudzu entirely with a tarp so that it receives no rain or sunlight. Or, if you live in a goat-friendly area, allow some goats to overgraze your kudzu. For them, it’s a tasty snack.

For friendlier vines and climbers, see our Plant Guides about Jasmine, Creeping Fig, and Wild Grape Vine.

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully control or eliminate kudzu with our Kudzu: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various vines and climbers with our Vines & Climbers: A Field Guide.

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