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Scientific Name:

Common Name:

Pueraria montana (Lour.) Merr.
Kudzu
Family: Fabaceae

USDA Plant Code: PUMO

Habitat: Terrestrial; forest, waste areas

Growth Habit: Perennial Vine

Native Environment: E. Asia

AKA: Vine-that-ate-the-South

Introduction



Kudzu Growing into a Road in North Mississippi
Problems Caused
Kudzu [Pueraria montana (Lour.) Merr.], also known as Japanese arrowroot or vine-that-ate-the-South, is a perennial, high-climbing vine native to eastern India, China and Japan. It was introduced into the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and recognized as forage in 1905. By 1946, an estimated 300,000 acres were planted. It is likely that some of those populations are still in existence today. In addition to its use as forage, kudzu was also widely planted for soil stabilization in the South. It has been used some as an ornamental and for certain edible and medicinal uses.

Regulations
It is a Noxious Weed in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia. It is Banned in Connecticut and Prohibited in Massachusetts. Kudzu is a Quarantine and “A” Designated Weed in Oregon and Washington. It can be problematic in all MidSouth states in almost all habitats except aquatic and covering large areas. Kudzu can host Asian soybean rust, a potentially serious pathogen in soybeans [Glycine max (L.) Merr.].

Description


Vegetative Growth
The Genus Pueraria belongs to the Pea (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) Family. Pueraria is not native to the United States, and only one species is problematic in the MidSouth. There are 17 species of Pueraria, all tropical and East Asian. There are two species of Pueraria in the United States, P. phaseoloides (Roxb.) Benth. and P. montana, although only P. montana is a problem in the continental United States. There are two botanical varieties of P. montana, P. montana var. lobata (Willd.) Maesen & S. Almeida (kudzu) and P. montana var. montana (Taiwan kudzu). Pueraria montana var. lobata is the problematic variety within the continental United States.

Kudzu is a perennial, woody, trailing to high-climbing, twining vine reaching around 80 feet. Trailing stems may root when in contact with the soil and large tuberous roots may also be produced, which have been eaten in Asian countries. Twining generally occurs on objects less than 4 inches. Stems are covered with stiff, rust-colored or golden hairs when young, maturing brown, woody, and smooth to 10 inches in diameter. Older bark may become rough and dark brown. Leaves are alternate and tri-foliolately compound (Figure 2) with leaflets covered with golden hairs and typically lobed. Leaves are large with leaflets 2 to 8 inches long. Petioles are 6 to 12 inches long with a swollen base and deciduous, ovate-lanceolate stipules.


Kudzu Leaf Showing Three Leaflets and Lobes on the Apical Leaflet
Flowering
Flowering occurs from September to January. The racemes or panicles are axillary, 2 to 12 inches long, and open from bottom to top. Flowers are about 1 inch in diameter and occur in pairs or threes in a spiral pattern up the main axis. Lower petals are lavender or violet-purple and the upper petal similar in color or pinkish with a yellow patch near the base. Flowers are fragrant, attracting bees and other pollinators.

Fruit are produced from September to January, occurring in clusters. The flattened legumes are 1.2 to 3 inches long, 0.3 to 0.5 inches wide, and covered with stiff golden-brown hairs. Seeds are ovoid to nearly square and around 0.1 inch in diameter. Seed viability is variable.

Dispersal
Kudzu is dispersed by wind, animals, human activity, and water. Vegetative spread by rooting stems and movement of vegetative parts (stem segments or tubers) in soil is also common.

Spread By
Kudzu continues to spread by seed which are wind-, animal-, and water-dispersed and rooting stems. Both seeds and stem segments can be transported in soil to new sites.

Habitat


Kudzu can be problematic in all habitats, except aquatic. It can form dense thickets quickly shading out trees and other vegetation. It is relatively drought tolerant and will grow in a wide range of soils. Once established on a site, kudzu can be difficult to eradicate. Kudzu thickets can be difficult for humans and certain animals to navigate.

Distribution


United States
Kudzu is native from Japan to China and eastern India. It has escaped in South Africa, Malaysia, western Pacific Islands, and the United States. In the United States, it occurs from Maine to Florida west to Nebraska and Texas. Kudzu has also escaped in Washington and Oregon.

MidSouth
Kudzu is widespread throughout the MidSouth, particularly on slopes.

IPAMS Surveys:

Control Methods


Biological
Currently no know widespread biological controls are used in the United States. There has been some recent interest in the use of biological controls for kudzu.

Chemical Control for Kudzu Applied at Low Volumes in the Fall
Herbicide Active ingredient Rate per Acre Comments
Escort Metsulfuron-methyl 4 oz Can be applied overtop of established pine trees or as a ground application under hardwoods without spray contacting desirable tree foliage.
Milestone VM Aminopyralid 7 oz Will damage trees and many broadleaf plants, but safe on grasses.
Milestone VM Plus Aminopyralid + Triclopyr 64 to 96 oz Will damage trees and many broadleaf plants, but safe on grasses.
Roundup Glyphosate 128 oz Will injure most grassy and broadleaf vegetation.
Tordon K Picloram 64 oz Will damage trees and many broadleaf plants, but safe on grasses.
Transline Clopyralid 21 oz May be applied overtop of pines as well as certain hardwood species and grasses.
Chemical
There are also herbicide treatments that can be used for chemical control of kudzu. These include metsulfuron-methyl (Escort at 4 oz/A), aminopyralid (Milestone VM at 7 oz/A), aminopyralid plus triclopyr (Milestone VM Plus at 64 to 96 oz/A), glyphosate (Roundup at 128 oz/A), picloram (Tordon K at 64 oz/A), and clopyralid (Transline at 21 oz/A). All should be applied at low volumes in the fall.

Mechanical
Mississippi Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletins 326, published in 1939, states kudzu can be easily controlled with “grazing or frequent and thorough plowing.” Bulletin 438, published in 1946, stated that kudzu could be controlled with one or two years of continuous heavy grazing or one year of plowing followed by planting and cultivating a row crop. This publication went on to state that frequent mowing for hay, like continuous grazing, would cause the loss of an established stand of kudzu. So, there some mechanical methods of kudzu control may be used in areas that can be either grazed, mowed, or tilled.

Mechanical controls can be successful for small infestations. Multiple approaches may be more feasible for larger populations. Small infestations may be removed by hand, although this method can be slow and labor intensive. Removing plants prior to fruit ripening to avoid seed dispersal is suggested. Because stems can propagate through fragmentation, be careful to remove all stems.

Physical
Since kudzu grows in a wide range of conditions, cultural methods are generally not utilized. While converting an area to regular tillage may eventually remove kudzu from a site, it can also drastically changes the species composition on the site and should be considered carefully. Since kudzu is a broadleaf vine, a pine-dominated forest community might be another cultural method for consideration.

References


Langeland, K.A., and K. Craddock Burks. 1998. Identification and biology of non-native plants in Florida’s natural areas. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Miller, James H. 2003. Nonnative invasive plants of southern forests: A field guide for identification and control. Southern Research Station, Asheville, NC.

USDA, 1948. Grass: The yearbook of agriculture 1948. United States Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 6 August 2007). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Contributing Authors


Dr. Victor Maddox, Geosystems Research Institute, Mississippi State University
Dr. Randy Westbrooks, USGS, Biological Resources Discipline, Whiteville, NC.


Contact Info


Dr. John D. Byrd, Jr.
Mississippi State University
Plant and Soil Sciences
Box 9555
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9555
Ph. (662)325-4537
jbyrd@PSS.MsState.Edu

Geosystems Research Institute
Contact: John D. Madsen, Ph.D.  •  WebMaster