Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kudzu That Ate U.S. South Heads North as Climate Changes

Kudzu covering pick-up truck (Credit: Roel Smart/Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
As the climate warms, the vine that ate the U.S. South is starting to gnaw at parts of the North, too.

Kudzu, a three-leafed weed first planted in the U.S. more than 100 years ago for the beauty of its purple blossoms, has been spotted in every county in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.  It chokes young trees, brings down power lines and infests abandoned homes.  Now the plant, which can grow as fast as a foot (30 cm) per day, is creeping northward, wrapping itself around smokestacks in Ohio, overwhelming Illinois backyards and even jumping Lake Erie to establish a beachhead in Ontario, Canada.

The invasive plant costs U.S. property owners about $50 million per year in eradication, according to the Nature Conservancy.  Other estimates are 10 times higher.  Agronomists and landscapers fear what the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Lewis Ziska calls the star of “a bad 1950s science-fiction plant movie” will continue to expand its role, making a nuisance and carrying a disease devastating to soybeans.  Climate change is partly to blame, Ziska said, with the average U.S. temperature rising as much as 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, most of that since 1970, according to the National Climate Assessment issued by the White House in May.

Kudzu That Ate U.S. South Heads North as Climate Changes

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