592 Pueraria lobataCommon Names: kudzu vine, ge gen (Chinese), ohwi (Japanese) Family: Fabaceae (bean Family)
Kudzu is a deciduous twining vine that spreads rapidly and covers everything in its path with a dense tangle of hairy stems and large trifoliate leaves. The leaves are alternate, on rather long petioles, and each leaflet is 4-7 in (10.2-17.8 cm) long, with the middle one the longest. The purple flowers are fragrant and borne in showy erect clusters (racemes) to 10 in (25.4 cm) long. The fruit is an elongate, flat legume. Kudzu can grow up to 1 ft (0.3 m) a day and the vine can reach more than 100 ft (30.5 m) in a season. It usually dies back to the ground in winter and persists there as a (sometimes) huge tuber which provides the energy to regrow very rapidly the following spring.
Kudzu vine, Pueraria lobata, is native to eastern Asia, probably to China originally. Some authorities believe it was introduced into Japan centuries ago. It was intentionally released into the southeastern United States in 1876 as an ornamental, then planted extensively for erosion control and livestock forage. Today it occurs throughout the southeastern US at least as far north as Ohio and Connecticut, and in many others parts of the world, including South America and South Africa. In most places kudzu vine is detested as a serious pest that smothers native vegetation including even tall trees. Look for kudzu along roads in the southeast where it covers fences, telephone poles, bushes, trees, and even abandoned houses, with an otherworldly cloak of suffocating greenery.
CultureKudzu vine can be grown almost anywhere, but it prefers soil and appreciates sun and occasional water. Mulch with cinder blocks, fertilize with Agent Orange, and prune daily. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 10. Kudzu vine survives in zones 5 and 6, resprouting each spring, but the frost-free period there usually is not long enough for flower and seed production. Propagation: By seeds and by rhizomes (but don't do it!)
Kudzu vine is an extremely aggressive weed that should not be intentionally cultivated in the landscape. Enjoy kudzu, if you will, where it is already growing along highways and open fields.
Kudzu is cultivated in Asia and is actually a semi-domesticated crop, grown mainly for its large starchy root that is used medicinally and for food. Chinese research has shown that kudzu root increases blood flow to the head. It is used as a treatment for measles and high blood pressure. American studies indicate that kudzu root extract suppresses the desire for alcohol, and it appears to be useful in treating hangovers.
The Japanese make a kind of tofu from the root. The leaves are nutritious, high in protein, and readily eaten by cattle, goats and sheep. In the American southeast, the vines are woven into baskets.
Kudzu is the most serious forest weed in the southeastern US, smothering and crushing fully mature trees. It covers more than 7 million acres. The State of Florida lists kudzu vine as a noxious weed and prohibits its introduction, movement or release. The Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council lists kudzu as a species that is a severe threat to displace native plant communities and native species. No doubt other states seek to control its spread as well.
You can control kudzu with foliar sprays of picloram (Tordon®), picloram plus 2,4-D, or tebuthiuron (Spike®) during the growing season. It may take several seasons to eradicate a kudzu patch. If you can find the tuber, cut off the largest stems and paint the wounds with triclopyr (Brush-B-Gon®).
Steve Christman 11/20/99; updated 6/15/04