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The former Daily Statesman is now The Dexter Statesman and currently does not have an operating website.

The Vine that ate the South

Posted Saturday, September 8, 2007, at 8:33 AM

As some of our regular blogger buddies know, we've been bandering about the issue of whether or not Southeast Missouri has Kudzu, a fast-growing vine brought to the U.S. from Japan in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. In the 1920's it was promoted by Florida nursery operators as an ornamental plant. In the 1930s the Soil Conservation Service used it for erosion control, and hundreds of young Civilian Conservation Corps workers planted it around the nation. Farmers were paid as much as eight dollars an acre to plant fields of kudzu in the 1940's.

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!

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

WOW-I don't care who you are-that's a great story! I can't wait to see the pictures and show them to my Dad who has always thought that was kudzu on Hwy.25!

Hey Madeline,can you show a picture also of the grape vines so I can learn the difference?

Also, I have never seen any grapes on these grape vines-are they all edible or just good for making wreaths?

You didn't get the sense he was giving you any "yellow lab-not a cougar" government line,did you?

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Sat, Sep 8, 2007, at 5:20 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Not sure if we can post two photos - I have to wait until Monday morning and check with Bobby Greer ----unless Corey sees this over the weekend and helps me out. I've tried to follow their instructions, but I can't seem to get it to work, so I have one of the guys post my photos. If I can't post two at a time, I'll switch photos during the week and put one up of the grape vines.

However, grape vines are sorta heart-shaped and have just that one lobe (I wish I could draw it). The kudzu vines have three lobes. I've seen some leaves like that on my lane, but they obviously weren't kudzu, since they didn't grow a foot a day!

I don't THINK I was getting the run around from the Bloomfield extension guy. Of course, you wouldn't know, unless you're swamped with the vine, and no one will believe you!

I am not an expert gardener by any means, but I always thought that the vines on Hwy 25, by Bud Shell was Wisteria. They bloom at the same time other Wisteria blooms and looks exactly like it. My mother in law has a Wisteria in her yard and it is a mass of uncontrollable vines with beautiful purple-pink colored grape like blooms. Maybe someone should stop there next spring and check this out so we can all know for sure????

-- Posted by dexter lady on Sun, Sep 9, 2007, at 2:03 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Yes, those vines on the left (east?) by the railroad overpass are definitely wisteria. I remember the first time I noticed the blooms and was amazed at so many wisterias in one place! I have a wisteria that has completely enveloped a mulberry tree in my front yard - and I have belatedly realized that I shouldn't have let it climb up there! The vines reached up and grabbed a branch in mid-air - and then it was doomsday for the tree! Whether it's the wisteria killing the tree - or some other force, it is dying. Now the wisteria vines are so thick that my loppers won't cut them. My son will have to get a chain saw after them, I think!

The vines I was talking about are in that wild area on the right (west) of Hiway 25, behind that service station whose name eludes me... That region has been a tangle of vines ever since I can remember. I think it's beautiful!

The Cake Lady will have to check her recipe book...will report later. In the meantime, surely our friends in Georgia would be more than happy to fill our requests for ingredients.

-- Posted by letseatcake633 on Sun, Sep 9, 2007, at 9:14 PM

Go north on CR 413 (hospital road), turn left on CR 442, go all of the way around the first curve, over one hill and look to your right. There is patch of kudzu there that runs about a quarter mile, totally engulfing the fence there.

-- Posted by mobrigade on Mon, Sep 10, 2007, at 12:47 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Okay, I'm not from Dexter (anymore), so I'm not sure about Hospital Road. I know where the hospital is, so I assume that it's near that. Left on 442....Darn, I was in Dexter today! I wish I'd had this information then!

Hey, one of you Dexter bloggers go out there and check it out. Oops! My photo didn't come up today, so you don't know what it looks like! Bobby, did you get my email?? Well, we'll try again tomorrow. I THINK I could recognize it from the photos.

Wow! Kudzu in Dexter! That would be a heck of a story! On second thought, I'll go look at it myself tomorrow. What's two trips to Dexter in two days? Just about $13.45 per trip...ACK!!!

Minnie, get out there and look at that kudzu for me!!! Do you have snake boots??

One question and one suggestion for the resident Kudzu expert, a.k.a., Madeline.


Does Kudzu deplete the soil of nutrients?


The Decider-in-Chief has repeatedly extolled the virtues of using switchgrass to make biofuels, but maybe he has been pushing the wrong plant. It seems like the hyper-fast growing Kudzu would be perfect as a raw material source for making biofuels. Just think! Kudzu could be planted all over Stoddard County as an economy boosting cash crop! What da ya think?

-- Posted by FJGuy on Mon, Sep 10, 2007, at 3:01 PM

Yes, yes. Biofuel. Make a profitable use of Kudzu and people will harvest it off your property for you.

You can also use the young kudzu vine for "fake" grapevine wreaths and baskets. It's very flexible when young and sturdy when dried and absolutely nobody will miss it if you take some from the roadside.

In the south it doesn't die back every year so it just keeps on growing. Down there you have to be very careful when entering a kudzu grove, stand, whatever(??) because you never know what's under it. Snakes in particular, but sometimes ravines and whole houses.

-- Posted by Ducky on Mon, Sep 10, 2007, at 5:10 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Mmm...biofuel...You've come up with a whole new topic for this Definitely-not-a-kudzu expert! Do I feel another call to the extension office in Bloomfield coming on?

Hey, Ducky, have they never tried goats on that kudzu? Millions and millions of goats! They can even climb up on the houses and cars to eat it! I don't know about the snakes.... None of mine have been bitten so far. I haven't heard if other goatherders have had snake-bitten goats.

-- Posted by goat lady on Mon, Sep 10, 2007, at 5:25 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Does anybody have an answer for the goat question? I don't, but I'll see if I can find one.

Our editor posted my kudzu photo this morning (Tuesday 9/11). Thanks, Bobby! It shows the shape of the leaf pretty clearly, though it doesn't capture the extent of the infestation possible with this insidious vine. Bobby says he saw it in California, which is his state of origin.

Gee, I don't know if goats would eat kudzu. Maybe goat lady should take one of her goats, track down that site in Dexter and see if the goat likes it???? Minnie, Cake Lady, Yellow Rose! I feel another road trip coming on. I.B., break out the Harley!!!! This time maybe attach the side car.

-- Posted by Ducky on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 2:44 PM

Well, I'll be dipped. I did a whole big story on kudzu several years ago while working at the Statesman. Can't remember exactly what year (salutations to Minnie Pausal!), but it had to be between 2000 and 2004. Even had photos of the exact spot you all are referring to by the service station.

Was I totally wrong back then? Not a soul called me on it.

Back in peach land, there's also a lot of the plant -- kudzu or whatever it is.

Think I need to ask a close relative -- he's a weed scientist at the Delta Center.

-- Posted by peachpal on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 3:45 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Mmm...Sounds as if we need to make a field trip to that place on Highway 25. It just might BE kudzu! Did you get a good look at the vines? I guess I always assumed it was grape vines, having never seen kudzu.

That gives us two places in Dexter to check.

Ask your weed scientist and let us know.

Great Picture! I hope you'll do some more on other local plants-paw paw,sumac,poison oak,Virginia creeper,etc.

My infamous boss,Mr.Harry Iball was in rare form today,having a meltdown when he "lost" his keys,which were easily found.He ruined the day and gave me a little stress headache.

I'm for sure doing a midnight run to our local kudzu patch,he really needs to cover that unsightly fence he brags about ("costs more than your car,girl-hahaha")with something natural! Foot a day,hmmm,wonder how much fertilizer it will need to speed up that growth?

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 4:22 PM

Y'all, did some sleuthing about kudzu. Found that it has similarities to a plant that people have differing opinions about. That plant is marijuana! In fact, a bio-chemist says it would be easy to create a kudzu plant that produces THC (the psychoactive substance in marijuana)! Hummmmm. Stoddard County kudzu farms could sell the plants for bio-fuel after harvesting the ...... Yikes! What have you started Madeline!!

Seems like all that needs to be done to get a handle on the kudzu "situation" is to get the government to declare "war on kudzu"! Lickety-split, kudzu will be eliminated in no time.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 7:01 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
I cannot believe you found this information, FJGuy! I will have to check this out, you realize!

This would be a prime example of solving one problem by creating another, wouldn't it? Sorta like importing cats to kill mice and then being overrun by cats... or importing water hyacinths in Florida......Can't remember why?? And then importing...what was it? those manatees? No, that's not it!

Help me out here, Ducky Sage-of-the-South!

Yellow Rose, are you married to ole hairy eye ball?

-- Posted by I.B. Le Truth on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 9:29 PM

Shocking suggestion, I.B.! Whatever would give you that idea? It's so far out, it may just be true!!

But would "Hairy Ball" have a six pack??

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 10:40 PM

Oh, yeah, Ducky! Road trip! Road trip! I'll load up two of my best goats, and we'll head over to County Road 442 to check out the kudzu!

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 10:43 PM

Dear Mr. Truthy,

In the words of "Lucy" from Peanuts, Yucch,dog germs on my being married to my boss Mr.Iball. Blehhhh, I try to think of his Mrs. as some poor lady who was forced to marry him ,prison work-release deal or maybe immigration trouble. She is a lovely,smart lady,I really can't fathom any other reason.

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 9:54 AM

Re: kudzu

Still waiting on a response from the weed scientist. Think maybe he got stuck in a rice paddy -- or maybe he's hung up in some kudzu vines somewhere trying to get a closer look.

-- Posted by peachpal on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 11:59 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Well, I got some information from two Conservation agents at the Semo Fair today. (They have a neat display set up with lots of snakes & fish.) They gave me names of experts to call at the University and at Otter Slough - so tomorrow I should have some definite answers - and maybe one of them will take me to see some kudzu! (And, yes, they said that we DO have it in Southeast MO.)

We're making progress...

Ducky! Road trip? Count me in. I'll bring my culinary journal - we should be able to harvest some great ingredients!

-- Posted by letseatcake633 on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 8:19 PM

OK, Cake Lady! Did you freeze some of that rapscallion sauce? It might go well on kudzu pudding.

I haven't heard about kudzu having any qualities in common with marijuana. I can't imagine it. No, don't have the government declare war on kudzu - that never works. We can all count more instances of failed government "wars" on things than we have fingers and toes. Find something useful (and profitable) to do with kudzu and the people will take care of it themselves. Fire ants, killer bees, water hyacinths, etc., ect., ect..

-- Posted by Ducky on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 5:28 PM

Without hesitation, weed scientist says the vine in question is kudzu. A former employer tried burning it a few years back and, lo and behold, it's back thick as ever.

Be glad to pass on any tried and true methods of eradicating the pesky weed.

If goats will take it on, sounds like a good idea to me.

-- Posted by peachpal on Mon, Sep 17, 2007, at 11:13 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Peachpal, is "the vine in question" that vine back there on Highway 25 behind the service station?? Ah, yes -- I just back up to your original posting, and that's what you said!

Well, I'LL be dipped!! You were right!

I guess Goat Lady and I need to load up our goats and head to Dexter!!

I must get a close look at that vine!!!! Think I'll need my snake boots? I AM GOING TO DEXTER TOMORROW! I SHALL get an original, digital, full-color blog photo of the dreaded, the feared, the mythical KUDZU!!!


Maybe you should rent your goats out to those with kudzu problems-all organic solution,no charge for goat fertilizer left behind. I'm sure you would never trust your precious ruminants with strangers,so if there are any cattle farmers lurking,you may wish to let old Bessie rid your land of kudzu!

-- Posted by Yellow Rose of Essex on Mon, Sep 17, 2007, at 12:29 PM

All right, girls!!! Road trip!! I know the place! I had a new muffler put on my truck at A-Z Muffler, which is right on that little hill above the wild spot where the kudzu is supposed to be. I'm sure that guy won't mind if we go back there and get some pictures.

Meet you there at ... mmmm...10 a.m.

Kudzu, here we come!! I'll be the one leading a goat!!!

-- Posted by goat lady on Mon, Sep 17, 2007, at 9:29 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Hahahaha! See ya there, Goat Lady!!

Bring your snake boots and your camera!!!

We're gonna KICK SOME KUDZU!!!!

-- Posted by goat lady on Mon, Sep 17, 2007, at 9:44 PM

You guys are cracking me up. I haven't laughed like this in weeks. With Madeline's country "roots" and stories, and all of this blog about shooting snakes and wrestling wild vines, a memory was brought to mind from my childhood. Anyone ever been "Snipe Hunting" ?? In case some of you have never heard of this joyful little game, here is a link where you can read more...maybe pass on some old tyme southern traditions to some young (unsuspecting) adventurer......


-- Posted by Amanda on Tue, Sep 18, 2007, at 2:22 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Yes, I do recall hearing about those little critters called "snipes," though (thankfully) I was never duped into going hunting for them! Back then, I'd have been petrified to be out at night in the woods by myself! In fact, I wouldn't do it now!!

However, unlike snipes, kudzu is a bonafide environmental reality!! We were there TODAY!! YES!!!


My new blog will hit the streets in the morning!!!


I missed the blogs for several days and was shocked to discover that there was any doubt about kudzu's evil presence in Dexter. The first couple of houses off One Mile Rd on Hickory Hills Drive are heavily infested. Before any of you encourage goat grazing, would goat poop spread it to goat lady's ground when she took her pets home?

-- Posted by gardengirl on Wed, Sep 19, 2007, at 10:27 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Wow, I hadn't considered that possibility. I knew I would have to be careful with the sample I cut yesterday from behind A-Z Muffler, but I never thought about the poop issue.

I traveled through Dexter again today and got directions to that kudzu on "Hospital Road," but it was too far out of my way and I was too tired to try to find it. Wish I'd known about the Hickory Hills location. I'm not even sure the vine I cut yesterday is kudzu. It doesn't look quite like the picture I posted on my blog.

I was afraid to get it out of the bag to test it on my goats, and it's a good thing I didn't! If your poop idea is valid, I'd have it all over my fields in no time!

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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 advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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