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The Vine that ate the SouthPosted Saturday, September 8, 2007, at 8:33 AM
The government stopped advocating the planting of kudzu in 1953 and with good reason. The USDA declared it a weed in 1972. Sources say it can grow a foot a day or 60 feet in a year. Whole sections of the southern states are covered in the plant, which has no natural enemies in the U.S. It grows better in our southern states than it does in its native countries of Japan and China. Legend has it that in Georgia you must close your windows at night to keep the vine out!You can google it and see photos of houses, barns, and farm equipment totally covered in it.
I was curious about whether kudzu had made it to our region, so I called Van Ayers, an Agriculture and Rural Development specialist at the Bloomfield Extension office. A Tennessee native, he's familiar with the noxious weed; in fact, he says that his dad actually PLANTED it in the 60's to control soil erosion on the road bank on his farm. The cattle liked it so well that they kept it well trimmed, when it tried to invade the pasture; in fact, one of their cows would break the fence down to get to it. She would wade in kudzu up to her belly and eat all day.
Kudzu, Ayers explains, is a nitrogen-fixated legume like soybeans, so animals love it. I gather that the plant can be controlled with heavy grazing, but it's difficult to bale for hay, since the vines foul up the machinery. However, a man in Rutherfordton, North Carolina produces over 1,000 bales of kudzu hay each year on his Kudzu Cow Farm, and his advice is "cut it low and bale it high."
Anyway - back to the Southeast Missouri question. Ayers says that he hasn't seen any kudzu in Southeast Missouri. "If you had it on your farm, you'd know it," he told me. His official position is "Kudzu is not as big a problem in Southeast Missouri as it is in some other regions of the U.S." I gather that he's hedging his bet, in case the vine IS out there - but no one's reported it yet. Kudzu dies back in the winter, but it picks right back up the next summer. We can only hope that our winters are too cold for it; however, I'm sure that I read where it had been found as far north as Pennsylvania.
I've wondered for years about that wild region of vine-covered trees in Dexter just off Hiway 25 near the 4-way stop, just past Bud Shell's car lot; however, that looks like grape vines to me. I guess the big difference between the grape vines and the kudzu is that the grape vines take YEARS to get to that point. Must not be a big enough issue to turn the cows in on it! And I'm sure Dexter has ordinance against cows - like my sister's city does about goats.
As for the culinary qualities of kudzu, there's a Kudzu tea, which is supposed to be beneficial, and research is being done to determine if it can be used to cure hangovers and treat alcoholism and migraine headaches. The blossums can be batter fried or made into a apple/peach-flavored jelly.
As clever as our own Cake Lady is, I'm sure she could come up with some excellent recipes - if she could find an adequate supply of the plant!
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 573-722-5322.
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