Kudzu Nation

Need another reason to hate kudzu, the green leafy vine that is pervasive throughout the South? How about this: a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that kudzu is a contributor to surface ozone pollution. The invasive plant, which was introduced in the U.S. in the late 1800s for erosion control, emits high levels of isoprene and nitric oxide which combine with the nitrogen in the air to form ozone. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia, showed the presence of kudzu can double the level of nitrogen oxide emissions from soil. Rampant expansion of kudzu could even increase the number of high ozone alert days in a given year.

Kudzu now occupies more than 7.4 million acres in the U.S., expanding at 120,000 acres annually. Kudzu vines have been known to grow up to a foot a day.

But don’t think kudzu is all bad. Some Southern families have used kudzu as a food source for decades, cooking up fried kudzu leaves, kudzu quiche, steamed kudzu…And some entrepreneurs have been trying to turn kudzu into a biofuel cash crop as well. A study published two years ago in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy claimed an acre of kudzu could yield about 270 gallons of ethanol, comparable to the 210 to 320 gallons per acre that corn yields.

While using kudzu as a biofuel is promising because it requires no water or fertilization, harvesting the weed for fuel has proved difficult and costly, as the roots sometimes grow six feet deep beneath steep slopes. But getting rid of kudzu has always been a challenge. The U.S. Forest Service has researched kudzu management and removal for decades. So far, the best form of kudzu eradication that researchers have uncovered, is goats.

The number of years kudzu has been used in traditional Chinese medicine, primarily as a treatment for hangovers

Length in feet that a single kudzu vine can grow in one warm season, roughly one foot per day

Weight in pounds of a kudzu root

Number of vines that can grow from a single root

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