Kudzu is a climbing, semi-woody, perennial vine in the pea family. Deciduous leaves have three broad leaflets up to 4 inches across. Leaflets lobed with hairy margins. Individual flowers, about 1/2 inch long, are purple, highly fragrant, and borne in long hanging clusters. Flowering occurs in late summer and is soon followed by the production of brown, hairy, flattened, seed pods, each of which contains three to ten hard seeds.
Kudzu kills other plants by smothering them under a blanket of leaves and by breaking branches or uprooting entire trees and shrubs through the sheer force of its weight. Kudzu plants grow rapidly, extending as much as 60 feet per season at a rate of about one foot per day.
This vigorous vine may extend up to 100 feet in length, with stems up to 4 inches in diameter. Kudzu roots are fleshy, with massive tap roots 7 inches or more in diameter, 6 feet or more in length, and weighing as much as 400 pounds. As many as thirty vines may grow from a single root crown.
The following plants have flowers and fruits, provide food for wildlife, and make excellent substitutes for kudzu:
- Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)
- Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla)
- Passionflower (Passiflora lutea)
- Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
- Native bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
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