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Fast-growing kudzu making
inroads in Illinois, authorities warn
photo to enlarge
courtesy George Czapar
people are not aware that kudzu has been found in
Illinois,” said George Czapar, an extension
educator at the Springfield Extension Center of the
University of Illinois
— To all Illinois residents: Be on the lookout for kudzu. This
high-climbing, fast-growing weed, which is illegal to buy, grow and
plant in Illinois, smothers existing vegetation and has been spotted
in more than 30 Illinois counties.
“Many people are not aware that kudzu has been found in Illinois,”
said George Czapar, an extension educator at the Springfield
Extension Center of the University of Illinois. In collaboration
with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Czapar is monitoring
kudzu in Illinois and is part of an effort to slow the spread of the
“We try to make people aware of what it looks like, and help document
infestations of kudzu” he said. “We hope to make people
more vigilant to keep kudzu from spreading.”
Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is sometimes confused with wild
grape, another climbing vine that is widespread in Illinois. Although
several species of wild grapes are commonly found in Illinois, they
do not spread as aggressively, Czapar said. Kudzu is distinguished from
wild grape by its trifoliate leaves, like on soybeans; whereas wild
grapes have single leaves alternately attached to the stem.
Kudzu can grow a foot a day, and a single crown may send 30 vines in
different directions, Czapar said. Vines can extend 98 feet, and mature
vines can be four inches thick, according to the Southeast Exotic Pest
Kudzu was introduced from China and Japan, coming to the United States
during the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia as part of a Japanese
In the 1930s, kudzu was touted for its ability to stabilize eroding
land and as a food source for cows, Czapar said. The U.S. government
promoted what it called the “wonderplant,” leading to 2.47
million acres of kudzu-covered U.S. land by 1946, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.
Now the invasive vine, a relative of soybeans, covers an estimated 7
million acres across southeastern states. In Illinois, kudzu is located
mainly along roads.
“It blocks the sunlight and smothers native plants,” Czapar
said. No natural enemies or predators of kudzu are common in Illinois,
which is typical of an introduced, invasive species, he said.
Southeast Illinois has 90 percent of the Illinois kudzu and the greatest
kudzu problem compared with the rest of the state, said Jody Shimp,
regional administrator at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The northernmost reported patch of kudzu in Illinois is in Evanston,
where there is about an acre of kudzu near the Chicago Transit Authority
railroad, Shimp said.
Kudzu has not been identified in Champaign County, but it has been found
in Clark, Cumberland, Macon, Peoria, Shelby and Tazewell counties. In
2003, surveys showed that about 100 different locations of kudzu covered
410 acres of Illinois, Shimp said. Most Illinois populations of kudzu
cover less than a couple of acres.
Illinois researchers have found that kudzu survives Illinois winters
and has excellent germination – characteristics previously assumed
to be untrue, Czapar said.
Since kudzu is a host for soybean rust, interest in the weed has increased
lately, Czapar said. Soybean rust can cause significant soybean yield
loss. First discovered in the United States in November 2004, the rust
is now in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina,
according to the USDA.
The U.I. Extension Center and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
are working together to manage kudzu in Illinois. The Illinois Department
of Natural Resources uses both herbicides and mowing to destroy patches
of kudzu, Shimp said.
“Because its root system can descend 12 feet into the soil and
weigh 300 pounds, controlling kudzu requires a combination of management
practices rather than simply pulling out the weed,” Czapar said.