Kudzu: plague of the land or forage of opportunity? 

Published 11:59 pm Monday, November 11, 2019

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Commissioners discuss how property owners can get rid of kudzu

POLK COUNTY—While many may not see kudzu as a positive thing, it does have its purposes. 

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met last week and heard from Polk County Cooperative Extension Director Scott Welborn regarding kudzu and what private property owners can do to rid their properties. 

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Polk County Commissioner Chair Tommy Melton said he placed the item on the agenda after reading letters in the Bulletin regarding kudzu control and eradication. 

Welborn said kudzu is something his office hears about a lot and can be a problem. He also said there are hills covered with kudzu that would have erosion if it were not for the plant and kudzu is also forage for animals. 

He said there are chemicals to eradicate kudzu but sometimes because of potential tree death downstream, chemicals are impractical. He estimated chemicals would cost approximately $5,000 an acre if a contractor was brought in to eradicate kudzu. 

Welborn said the county owns about 11 acres with kudzu and said the county would either have to hire a company to come in to eradicate the kudzu or hire employees, which would cost between $3,000 and $5,000 an acre. 

Melton said kudzu does provide food for animals and asked what chemicals may do to the wildlife. 

Welborn said the biggest problem for wildlife when kudzu is eradicated is they will lost their habitat. He mentioned between Tryon and Saluda there is a lot of kudzu which stabilizes the banks and if the kudzu is eradicated in areas such as those people will have to also think about what to plant to replace the kudzu for bank stabilization. 

“(Kudzu) really keeps that bank from coming down,” Welborn said. 

He said people have to think about what they are going to do next or there will be erosion issues. 

“You can’t just leave it bear,” Welborn said. 

Welborn also said he thinks the term “eradication” is not a good term. He said he prefers “control,” saying the county may want 85 percent control on its property. He also said the county will need to decide if kudzu is causing a problem on county property and how much commissioners think it’s worth. 

Welborn also said there are farmers who rent out goats to control kudzu. 

Commissioner vice chairman Myron Yoder said the county is trying to fix something that was actually put in by the government. He said he does like that the Polk County Appearance Commission is involved. Yoder also said it is a hard thing for the county to get involved in. 

“You don’t want us on your property,” Yoder said. 

Welborn said the issue is up to property owners. He said the cooperative extension agency can equip individual property owners to help. 

Melton said when he saw two letters in the paper he thought this is an issue so put it on the agenda. 

“I really and truly anticipated standing room only,” Melton said. “The truth is the truth. This board of commissioners is here to hear from the citizens. But if you don’t come here and speak, there’s not much we can do. If you don’t show up here than you’ve got no reason to talk about it.” 

There were few residents at last week’s meeting. 

Welborn said it’s the cooperative extension’s job to provide information, not to do the work for private property owners. He mentioned retired cooperative extension director John Vining, who organized 60-70 people several years ago regarding kudzu. 

He said several groups already exist in the county, including gardening clubs, and if people want to get involved they can volunteer for those groups. 

Kudzu history

Kudzu was cultivated in Asia for centuries for food and medicinal use. It was imported to the U.S.A. in the late 1800s. In the 1930s, the Soil Erosion Service handed out millions of plants to southern landowners to battle erosion and add nitrogen to the soil. By the 1950s, kudzu had spread rapidly throughout the south because of the warm climate and plentiful rainfall. Its status in 1970 was changed to “common weed” by the United States Department of Agriculture. Congress officially listed kudzu under the Federal Noxious Weed Act in 1998. 

Kudzu facts

Common names for kudzu include mile-a-minute vine, foot-a-night vine and the vine that at the South. 

In the 1940s, numerous “Kudzu Clubs” were formed throughout the South, which hosted kudzu festivals and crowned kudzu queens. 

The purplish-red kudzu flowers can reach up to 1 foot long. 

Kudzu root starch is widely used in Japan as a thickener when cooking. 

Kudzu vines can grow as much as a foot a day and 60 feet in a season. 

The Polk County Cooperative Extension Office can be contacted at 828-894-8218 or scott_welborn@ncsu.edu