Kudzu
Pueraria lobata

How did it get here?

Native to Japan, kudzu was brought to the United States in 1876 for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it was promoted as an ornamental plant for gardens and food for goats, cows, and pigs. To control erosion, it was planted in the South from 1935 through the mid-1950s. The United States Department of Agriculture removed kudzu from its list of recommended ground cover plants in 1953, when it became recognized as an aggressive nuisance. The agency listed kudzu as a noxious weed in 1972. Infestations are particularly heavy in the Deep South, and in Florida it is invading the Everglades.

How to spot

Kudzu illustration - copyright Margret MuellerKudzu is a vine that can grow very long—from 32 to 100 feet. A kudzu patch looks like a uniformly colored blanket of dark-green leaves, swallowing everything in its path both horizontally and vertically. The leaves, grouped in threes, are 3 to 10 inches long and can have as many as three lobes. They have hairy undersides. Depending on the climate and sun exposure, kudzu may flower from late July to September. It bears hanging clusters of purple blossoms that smell like grapes. Seedpods, which appear later, are hairy and bean-like. In winter or after a hard frost, kudzu is a mass of brown vines with leaves withered or absent. In very warm areas, leaves may be evergreen.

Habitat characteristics

  • Disturbed areas, including roadsides, abandoned yards, fields, forest edges, and vacant lots.
  • Deep, well-drained, loamy soil.
  • Grows best in climates with mild winters, hot summers above 80 degrees F, and abundant rainfall, but can withstand harsher weather.

Life cycle

Kudzu leaves and flower - UGAKudzu is in the legume family. It spreads vegetatively and, to a much lesser extent, from seed borne in pods. In summer, kudzu can grow as much as 1 foot per day. As many as 30 vines may grow from the root crown, and runners sprout from nodes every 1 to 2 feet along the vines. With enough sun, kudzu may flower from late July to September, after which seedpods form. It may die back to its roots during cold winters.

Look-alikes and how to distinguish

  • Large specimens of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)—lack obviously hairy leaves and stems.
  • Crown vetch (Securigera varia)—leaves are finer with 15 to 20 leaflets per leaf; profuse pink flowers.
  • Round-leafed beggar’s tick (Desmodium rotundifolium)—rarely exceeds 5 feet in length; leaflets not usually longer than 2¾ inches.

Why is this plant a problem?

Kudzu infestation - UGAKudzu kills native plants by smothering them and blocking their sunlight. Climbing vines can girdle trees, and their weight can uproot trees.
Loss of trees and plants to kudzu threatens agricultural and timber production.

Management approaches

Other resources

National Park Service
Chapter about kudzu in Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

Invasive and Exotic Species of North America
(University of Georgia and partners)
Information, images, and free online publications about invasive species

The Nature Conservancy’s Invasive Species Initiative
What you can do to combat invasive species, what species you might find in your yard, and other helpful resources

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