Kudzu: An Invasive Species With Useful Properties

Kudzu, also known as Japanese arrowroot, is an invasive plant species originating from East and Southeast Asia.  In its native environment kudzu is a useful plant, it helps the ecosystem by resisting erosion and increasing nutrient content in the soil.  Kudzu can also be used for animal feed, its long vines used to weave baskets, and the plant fibers used for making paper.  Kudzu is edible, in parts of East Asia the roots are ground up and used as starch to make mochi, and the flowers are also used to make jelly.  Kudzu has also been used in traditional medicine, producing tea from the roots that contains isoflavones. 

However, since the intentional introduction of Kudzu to the US for the purposes to stop soil erosion in the 1930s, the plant has become an invasive species.  Kudzu vines spread rapidly and covers the area around them, killing other plants by blocking their access to the Sun.  Since then, the plant has been found in most areas in the South Eastern US and has been found on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie in 2009.  Kudzu has also been found in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, and Switzerland.  

In order to clear Kudzu completely, the root crown of the plant has to be removed otherwise the plant can regrow.  This can be done by hand or mechanically, or by using chemical herbicides.  An experimental fungal herbicide also appears to be effective in removing Kudzu without harming other plants.  Although burning is not advised, repeated consistent harvesting to replete the nutrients is also effective.  Kudzu is invasive in the wild, but in its natural habitat the plant provides many useful functions for the ecosystem and for human uses. 


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