The vine that ate the South

Q. My sister in Alabama posted a picture of kudzu covering a telephone pole near her home. Is kudzu here in Ohio, or are our winters too cold for it?

Patricia, Columbiana County

A. Good question, Patricia. Unfortunately kudzu, “The Vine That Ate the South,” is in Ohio and doing quite well. It is found primarily in the southeastern part of the state, but there are reports of it in other locations, including in Cleveland and near the Ohio River in Columbiana County. Our Ohio winters don’t stop it. The above-ground vines are killed by the first frosts, but the underground parts of the plant survive.

As you may know, kudzu has a prolific growth rate. It can grow up to one foot a day and almost 100 feet in a season. Some towns in the South have kudzu festivals where they measure its growth rate. Kudzu can cover just about anything: telephone poles, buildings, parked cars, anything not moving. In the Deep South, the vines can build up to four feet thick, smothering everything in their paths, including native trees and plants.

Kudzu is another non-native plant that has that has become a problem. Native to China, Taiwan, Japan and India, kudzu was imported into the U.S. in the early 20th century. It was first used as an inexpensive animal forage and later, in the 1930s, it was used for erosion control in the South. By the 1950s, it was recognized that kudzu was becoming a problem. Kudzu is now considered a significant invasive species and one that is difficult to control where it is established.

Kudzu (Pueraria montana) is a member of the legume plant family, the same family as our peas and soybeans. Kudzu spreads primarily by stolons (runners), but it also produces seeds. These seeds can be carried by animals or people and start a new patch of kudzu a long way from the parent plant. Kudzu blooms from July to September and the seeds mature in October and November.

Early detection is key to controlling kudzu. If you see something you think is kudzu, report it to the Mahoning County Extension office or bring a sample to the clinic.

To see photos and for more information and kudzu photos, visit

You can meet David Sprague, an OSU Extension master gardener volunteer in Mahoning County at the Mahoning Plant and Pest Clinic. Call the clinic at 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Regular clinic hours are 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays.

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