Kudzu: The Plant That Ate the South Is Now Nibbling on the North
The first time I saw kudzu was as a kid on a family vacation to the Carolinas. We drove down from New Jersey, and I remember seeing carpets of green along the highways. It was an impressive sight for sure, and looking back I can see why it was thought to have “eaten the South.” My father told me it was planted as a solution for erosion around infrastructure. While it seemed to control erosion, it also had the effect of smothering everything around it: trees, shrubs, even buildings.
Those of us in New York and New Jersey may have heard of the plant or seen it on travels as I did, but it comes as a surprise to most that we have kudzu in our area, too. Similar “solutions” brought it to the North: erosion control and the occasional ornamental planting. Until I joined the Trail Conference and the Lower Hudson PRISM last year, I was one of the people who believed kudzu was a Southern problem and our cold climate couldn’t support the vine. As it turns out, kudzu is perfectly content in our region, and with climate change occurring, will likely become more aggressive in the coming decades.
But there is hope! Under New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) NYCRR Part 575 Invasive Species Regulations, kudzu became a prohibited plant in New York State. This has made it illegal to knowingly sell, import, purchase, transport, introduce, or propagate kudzu. A couple years ago, the DEC began to actively manage known populations, and the Trail Conference assumed responsibility for the majority of the sites in the Lower Hudson Valley in 2018. There are around 40 populations being managed with the intention to completely remove it from the region. This is an organized effort of DEC crews, the Lower Hudson PRISM’s Invasive Strike Force, “friends of ” organizations, and private invasive management companies working toward a common goal of invasive plant management.
This past season, the Trail Conference’s Invasive Strike Force, with help from the folks at the NYS DEC, Naja Kraus, Andrew Moska-Lee, and Sylvia Albrecht, was able to continue management on 16 kudzu populations. We are seeing good progress. The monocultures of kudzu are being knocked back quickly, and subsequent crews are finding only individual plants mixed amongst other plants. Sites are beginning to have no kudzu plants present, showing that eradication from our region is a real possibility. This effort has been awesome, and with continued support and management, we really do have a chance to nip this one in the bud before climate change allows it to become established here.
Above photo: An ISF crew member is swallowed by kudzu. Don’t worry, crew members don’t taste great and it spit her right out.