Removing kudzu to restore natural vegetation

Contact(s): Cody Norris 573-341-7405

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. (July 2, 2018) – Kudzu can, and will, take over an area once it is established. The plant chokes out most of the native vegetation in an area, creating a monoculture that displaces native wildlife dependent on native flora.  In 2014, Mark Twain National Forest leadership established a well-defined Non-Native Invasive Species (NNIS) program; and the kudzu infestation at Hendrickson Recreation Area was one of the first sites of their focused efforts. 

The kudzu patch at Hendrickson Recreation Area on the Poplar Bluff Ranger District has been well established for many years.  The popularity of this riverside recreation site made it a priority of the NNIS program—high usage means high likelihood of accidentally spreading seeds of the invasive plants.   NNIS treatment for the highly aggressive kudzu needed to happen quickly, to stop the spread it needed to include steps to stop unauthorized motor vehicle use through the kudzu. 

Kudzu is often described as “the vine that ate the south.”  The vines can grow a foot per day smothering and devouring large trees and other vegetation.  It shades out herbaceous vegetation so that no other species can grow underneath it.  It is native to Asia, but was introduced to the U.S. in 1876 during the Philadelphia Centennial Expedition. By the 1930s the species was being planted widely across southeastern states for erosion control and livestock forage.  By the 1950s, the plant was recognized as a major nuisance and a significant threat to native ecology. 

Along with stopping unauthorized motorized vehicle use, herbicides were key in clearing the area of this invader.  Contractors applied herbicide to the 10 acre kudzu patch at Hendrickson Recreation Area in 2015, 2016, and 2017.  The first year yielded promising results; and the following two years showed dramatic improvement for the native vegetation.  Sycamore trees along the old road bed began to flourish once again, and shrubby native vegetation gained a foothold in the bottoms. 

One of the leaders of this NNIS project, Natural Resource Specialist Erin Yeoman said, “I was pleasantly surprised by just how effectively the treatment worked and by how quickly the native vegetation came back after removing the choking kudzu.”  Yeoman continued, “There are a few sprigs left in the area that will need additional attention, but it is obvious from these results that kudzu can be removed with persistent treatment.”

The lessons learned from this treatment can help in other areas of the forest—some patches of kudzu are more than 100 acres in size.  Accessing the large carpets of towering vegetation can be difficult; reaching the climbing vines with chemical treatments is a challenge; and the process can be expensive.  This ten acre treatment proves that it is possible; and the key to successful treatment is early detection and treatment—so the faster something is done, the less expensive and easier treatment will be in the long run. 

Another tactic in the fight against kudzu that may be applied by Mark Twain National Forest NNIS program is to use goats to forage the invasive species away.  Using goats has the benefit of needing to apply less chemicals to get the job done; and we are hoping that it will be a quicker, more environmentally friendly, and a cheaper treatment to future locations,” stated Yeoman.

Area before and after treatment showing return of native plants