Kudzu: The Invasive Plant That Took Over the Southern United States

illo explaining invasive plant kudzu

Treehugger / Julie Bang 

In the dictionary next to the definition of "invasive species," they could show a photo of kudzu. Nothing seems to stop it. Since it was first introduced to the U.S. at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, it has been swallowing the country from an epicenter in the south at the rate of about 50,000 baseball fields per year, occupying an estimated 3,000,000 hectares today. Kudzu can grow up to 60 feet per season, or about one foot per day.

Survival of the Fittest

Kudzu is extremely bad for the ecosystems that it invades because it smothers other plants and trees under a blanket of leaves, hogging all the sunlight and keeping other species in its shade. It can also survive in low nitrogen areas and during droughts, allowing it to out-compete native species that don't have those superpowers. The only other plants that can compete with kudzu are other invasive species, so that doesn't really help.

Map showing the spread of Kudzu
Strongbad1982 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The great kudzu invasion all started out with a mistake: The Soil Erosion Service and Civilian Conservation Corp intentionally planted it to control soil erosion in the state of Pennsylvania. It was also used in the southeast to provide shade to homes, and as an ornamental species.

But as you can see in the map above, the result is more like a fast-growing cancer than anything else. How can you get rid of a plant that covers around a quarter of the country?

A Climate Change Culprit

Kudzu sprawling across an open area
Bubba73 (Jud McCranie) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 

As if that wasn't bad enough, kudzu also decreases the soil's ability to sequester carbon, thus contributes to climate change.

In a 2014 study, researchers studying kudzu in native pine forests found that kudzu invasion leads to increased amounts of carbon released from the soil organic matter into the atmosphere. This is probably because kudzu's organic matter degrades a lot more easily than what it replaces (like organic matter from trees).

Goats to the Rescue

Goat with a bell around its neck standing next to a tree
Giovanna Graf / EyeEm / Getty Images

The most Earth-friendly way to fight kudzu seems to be with goats, but it would take quite a lot of them to get through all the kudzu in the U.S. However, if you need to deal with invasive species and don't have goats, you can conveniently rent a herd, as we've written about before with Rent-a-Goat.

View Article Sources
  1. Kudzu Origin.” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

  2. Harron, Paulina, et al. "Predicting Kudzu (Pueraria montana) Spread and Its Economic Impacts in Timber Industry: A Case Study from Oklahoma." PLoS One, vol. 15, 2020, p. e0229835., doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229835

  3. Kudzu.” Alien Plant Invaders of Natural Areas.

  4.  “Kudzu.” Cornell University Cooperative Extension.

  5. Tamura, Mioko, et al. “Plant Litter Chemistry and Microbial Priming Regulate the Accrual, Composition and Stability of Soil Carbon in Invaded Ecosystems.” New Phytol. vol. 203, 2014, pp. 110-24., doi:10.1111/nph.12795

  6. Cobb, Tanya Deckla. “Reclaiming Our Food.” Storey Publishing. 2011.