Kudzu is on the move in Bath County
Kudzu was introduced to 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 United States. The Japanese constructed a beautiful garden filled with plants from their country. The large leaves and fragrant blossoms of Kudzu led many American gardeners to use the plant for ornamental purposes. Kudzu was now established in the United States.
Florida nursery operators discovered that animals would eat the plant and promoted its use for forage in the 1920s. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control.
The United States government stopped advocating the use of kudzu in 1953. The problem is that it just grows too well. The climate of the Southeastern United States 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 they contact. Under ideal conditions kudzu vines can grow sixty feet each year.
If you have never seen Kudzu, you don’t have to go too far. There are several infestations in Bath and Alleghany Counties, and it is spreading noticeably. Highland and Pocahontas Counties seem to be in the clear so far. Look at the hillside immediately across from the Homestead swimming pool, just adjacent to Sam Snead’s on the north side. There are several patches of Kudzu on 220 between Hot Springs and Warm Springs, and on 39 from the overlook down to Oak Ridge Store. Drive south across the bridge in Clifton Forge towards State Route 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 was discovered in Canada in 2009. A variety of methods have been used to control Kudzu but none with significant success. It will remain a significant invasive species for years to come.