Sean Hubbard

Special to the Grove Sun

STILLWATER, Okla. – Southern Oklahoma is under attack. Residents of Durant have been waging war against an invasive and aggressive enemy for more than seven years.

Originally promoted as an ornamental plant over one hundred years ago, kudzu has taken over much of the southeastern United States. While it is listed on the federal invasive species list as a noxious weed, it is legal in Oklahoma to transplant this viney species, which is probably how it arrived in our state.

To date, there are approximately 25 confirmed locations throughout Oklahoma that have kudzu. Jumping on this problem in its early stages could save millions of tax dollars for Oklahomans.

“If we could control it there (25 locations) we won’t have the devastation that Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have gone through,” said Karen Hickman, professor in the department of natural resource ecology and management at Oklahoma State University.” They are spending millions and millions of dollars a year to try and control it. If we took care of this now and made it illegal to move and transplant, we might be able to get a handle on it and it won’t threaten the Oklahoma forests or the Oklahoma natural resources.

Anna Cahill-Marcy and her neighbor, Paul Lynch, have already seen how aggressive this plant really is. Lynch noticed a small patch of kudzu growing near a creek on his property when he purchased it in 2003. It has been a non-stop battle ever since.

“After several tries, I’ve finally made a little bit of progress, but there is still a lot to do,” said Lynch, who is a professional landscaper and has access to chemicals that the public does not.  “It kind of makes me nervous, because it just devastates the trees. It grows right up the trees and smothers them and they can’t produce food and they die.”

What started as a small patch now covers several acres of property in the area. It has even crossed the street and gotten onto Cahill-Marcy’s property, which was purchased just over a year ago.

“A quarter of the property has been invaded by the kudzu. Our old sycamore tree is getting choked out,” she said.  “This is going to be our lifelong project. I never thought I would be focusing on battling a kudzu invasion.”

There is no good way to attack the plant. A steady application of chemicals and manual labor are required just to keep up with its growth, which can be 12 to 18 inches per day.

“With the weather over 100 degrees, it difficult to keep up with necessary labor,” Cahill-Marcy said. “It’s very hard work.”

The three-leaf vine grows along the ground until it finds something to climb, many times resulting in trees, telephone poles and fences being completely covered. It then covered the canopies of trees and doesn’t allow them to photosynthesize, essentially stopping their food production and killing the trees.

Even when the vines are cut, or mowed, like in the case of Cahill-Marcy, seedlings will start wherever clippings are left. This has been a challenge as kudzu has sprouted up in several places along a dam for the pond on Cahill-Marcy’s property.

“We have all kinds of fish in the pond,” she said. “We don’t want to do anything that would damage the ecosystem of the pond by putting chemicals into it. You can’t even see the vine underground, how are you going to fight it?”

Affectionately dubbed “the vine that strangled the south,” kudzu has made its way to Oklahoma.

“It’s a federally listed noxious weed, but state lists don’t have to abide by that list, only their state’s list,” Hickman said, adding that Oklahoma has only three noxious weeds listed, with kudzu not making the cut. “Several agencies have their own lists with more weeds considered noxious. The Oklahoma Invasive Plant Council is trying to link these lists together and promote it being listed as a noxious weed in Oklahoma.”

This idea is supported by those who are seeing the damage that kudzu can cause.

“I don’t see why the state of Oklahoma should have to go through all the troubles that other states, especially in the southeast, have gone through before they decided to make it a noxious weed,” said Lynch. “Why not just go from their experiences rather than have to waste all the trouble and all the tax dollars to go through it ourselves?”

While Oklahoma does have a little advantage over more southern states with the fact that is gets cold enough to make the plant go dormant, that won’t be enough to save our trees.

“Invasive species are known to evolve and adapt to the climate,” Hickman said. “So the population could shift to individuals that are cold tolerant, and if that’s the case, it may be 25 years, but it could be devastating.”