As kudzu dies back, a succession of weedy species invades the patch. Plants that have persisted as a minor component of the vegetation, and those present in the soil seed bank, are early colonizers. Red mulberry is a common survivor. It is found in heavily kudzu-infested areas covered with a carpet of green. Once the vines have been cut and pulled away, it begins to thrive. Other weeds that have been identified in this early successional stage include the following plants.
These weedy species are being recorded and voucher specimens are being placed at the University of South Carolina – Upstate Herbarium. Monocots are abundant in the early successional stages of a recovering kudzu patch. Their long narrow leaves may be favored in the light patches formed when sun rays filtering through the lobed foliage. But, more likely these opportunistic species have dormant seeds already in place and/or seeds that disperse widely.
A slow retreat of the kudzu favors the establishment of these species and reduces the chances of soil erosion. Dr. Larry Miller of Clemson University has even suggested that crab grass might be a suitable plant to use to stabilize the soil of a recovering kudzu patch.
A note of caution is probably advisable here. Whatever is planted should be a controllable native species. Substituting one pest for a "lesser one" should be done with great care.
A second note of cautions involves the use of heat treatments. Plastic sheeting not only kills the kudzu, but also destroy weedy species in competition with it. These treatments heat up the soil, destroying the native seed source and the microorganisms that act as organic recyclers, and aid in nutrient absorption.
We will continue to monitor the recovery of the kudzu patch. The list presented here is a very preliminary one. Many other species will be identified as the patch recovers.
Dr. Gillian Newberry
Revised October 2005