Kudzu Is Moving Into The Allegheny Highlands
Warm Springs, VA – Kudzu was introduced into the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Countries were invited to build exhibits to celebrate the 100th birthday of the U.S. The Japanese government constructed a beautiful garden filled with plants from their country. The large leaves and fragrant blooms of kudzu captured the imagination of American gardeners who then began to use the plant for ornamental purposes.
Florida nursery operators discovered that animals would eat the plant and promoted its use for forage in the 1920s. Kudzu plants were sold through the mail. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young men were given work planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps. Farmers were paid as much as eight dollars an acre as an incentive to plant fields of the vines in the 1940s.
The U.S. government stopped advocating the use of kudzu in 1953. The problem is that it just grows too well. The climate in the Southeastern U.S. is perfect for kudzu. The vines grow as much as a foot per day during summer months, climbing trees, power poles, barns, homes, and anything else it comes in contact with. Under ideal conditions kudzu vines can grow sixty feet each year.
If you have never seen Kudzu, you won’t have to go far. There are several infestations in Bath and Alleghany Counties. Take a look at the hillside immediately across from the Homestead swimming pool and just adjacent to Sam Sneads Tavern on the north side. In Clifton Forge, drive south across the bridge toward SR 220. Kudzu covers much of the south side of Verge Street as you approach 220.
Along with erosion control, other uses for Kudzu are being explored including Kudzu as a fiber, food starch, medicine, and animal feed. Meanwhile, in the United States, Kudzu spreads at a rate of approximately 150,000 acres per year or an area almost the size of Highland County. The range of Kudzu was thought to be limited to the deep south. Not only have infestations occurred in Virginia but Kudzu what discovered in Canada in 2009. A variety of methods have been used to try and control Kudzu but none with significant success or ease. It will remain a significant invasive species for years to come.