An invasive plant that’s referred to as “the vine that ate the South” is spreading north and some experts are forecasting it’ll reach Nebraska within a decade. Kudzu has been a problem in the southern U.S. for almost a century.
Lewis Ziska, with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, says one theory for kudzu’s spread northward is climate change.
“One of the things that has kept kudzu in check in the past has basically been cold winters. And as the winters warm, kudzu is essentially migrating northward and so you’re seeing it in locations where it hasn’t been seen in the past,” Ziska says.
Kudzu was first planted in the South in the 1920s to control soil erosion, which it does quite well, but otherwise, it’s mostly useless and damaging.
“It basically eliminates all of the other species. There’s only going to be kudzu,” Ziska says. “Kudzu is also a host for soybean rust. Kudzu is a sort of a super weed, if you will, one that we need to really keep an eye on and one that we need to come up with new ways to try and detect and of course to try and manage and that’s really, truly difficult.”
The climbing plant with purple flowers can grow almost a foot a day under proper conditions. Ziska says it you find kudzu, you should physically remove it or consider getting a goat.
“Goats love kudzu. And if you can get the goats to basically attack the kudzu, keep eating the kudzu, eventually the kudzu can be controlled,” Ziska says.
Studies have shown kudzu can be turned into a biofuel and used in medicines. Most reports show kudzu has reached southern Missouri and there are unconfirmed reports of it reaching southeast Iowa.