There’s an old joke in the South about how to plant kudzu: Scoop out a hole in the middle of your pasture, drop the plant into the depression – and run. The joke dates from the days when kudzu was touted as a wonder plant: a legume to replenish depleted soil and combat erosion, as fodder for farm animals and even as a salad ingredient for impoverished rural families. Today, kudzu is considered a pest. The vine, originally imported from Japan, grows better in the southern United States than it does in its native climate. And it has no natural predators to check its voracious growth rate – reportedly as much as a foot a day during summer months.
Kudzu is the poster child for invasive plants in the United States, but it’s not alone. Other non-native plants are growing unchecked throughout the country. Purple loosestrife has wreaked havoc on wetlands, garlic mustard now covers many forest floors in North America, water chestnut clog lakes and ponds in the Southeast. And the spread of Japanese knotwood is being actively combated by states in the Northwest.
It’s worth noting that one of kudzu’s early appeals was its beauty as a decorative vine for landscaping. The vine can be pretty draped over an arbor or latticework. It doesn’t look so great when it’s smothering ancient oak trees or completely blanketing telephone lines – an obvious example of landscaping gone horribly awry.
In the public’s eye, landscapers are local green experts. And as stewards of the environment, it often falls on you to educate the general public about the dangers of introducing native plants into local ecosystems. It’s na