Kudz-Who?

What a beautiful morning! As I traveled across Philadelphia’s new Girard Avenue Bridge towards Fairmont Park, my pace quickened. This area was jammed packed. All bridges were filled with trains, steam and horse-drawn street cars, carriages, cabs, and pedestrians. They, like myself, were making their way towards America’s first world fair. Surely this May 10th, 1876 will be a historic day for our nation and our world.

File:Centennial Exhibition, Opening Day.jpg
By James D. McCabe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This Centennial Exposition, as it was more commonly called, was held in honor of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. From May through October, close to ten million people came to Fairmont Park to see more than 30,000 exhibits from all over the world. Some of the products first displayed included the Corliss Steam Engine, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, the Remington Typograph Machine, Heinz ketchup, and Hires Root Beer. Lady Liberty’s arm and torch was on display as part of a fundraising effort to help pay for the completion of the statue.

File:Collossal hand and torch. Bartholdi's statue of "Liberty.", from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.jpg
Image source

Plant exhibitions were also widely popular, especially among gardeners. The Wallace Brothers Botanic Depot from Statesville, NC had a display, which was managed by Mordecai Hyams. It included various plants, mainly from the Southeast region, that were used for medicines. The Japanese delegation drew the most attention with the construction of a garden filled with some of Japan’s beautiful native plants. In particular, American gardeners were instantly attracted to the large leaves and sweet aromatic blooms of Pueraria lobata, commonly known as kudzu.

Chicago hosted the world fair in 1893 to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492. It was there in Chicago that two plant nursery operators, Earl and Lillie Pleas, would see the beautiful purple blooms of Kudzu for the first time. During the 1920’s, Earl and Lillie discovered that animals would eat kudzu. So, they began selling it and sending samples throughout the U.S. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, kudzu was promoted and used for erosion control by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. In the 1940’s farmers were paid as much as eight dollars an acre to plant fields of kudzu.

File:Flowering kudzu.jpg
Photo by Peggy Greb. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The problem, of course, is that kudzu grows too well. It has rapidly spread throughout the Southeast.


By Strongbad1982 at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
File:Kudzu Natchez.jpg
Photo by Jan Kronsell, 2002

A non-native species is defined as one that is not native to a particular place, or region. An invasive species is one that is not only  non-native, but also may have a tendency to spread and cause damage to other, native species. Kudzu is considered both. Because of kudzu’s adaptability and fast growth, it is very difficult to manage and control. The problem of dealing with kudzu leads to many questions. How much money should you spend to attempt to control the spread? If you have the chance to introduce another invasive species (i.e. kudzu bug, Megacopta cribaria) to possibly get rid of kudzu, should you take that chance?

The kudzu conundrum also leads to questions related to how exactly does one define a non-native and/or invasive species. Kudzu has been here for over 100 years, and has obviously been successful at establishing itself. Is it fine just to call it a native species now and do away with all “management” plans? If not, when do non-native plants become native?

Let the discussion begin.

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