The Kudzu of the North
Host: Rebecca Williams
Show date: 10/19/2010
If you've ever lived in the south, you know kudzu. It's an invasive plant that grows like crazy. Covers highway signs and telephone poles and anything that doesn't run fast enough. There's a plant in Michigan that's getting a little crazy too. It's not kudzu-crazy yet, but experts say we need to get a handle on it.
It has a memorable name: dog-strangling vine.
Pictures of the plant
A Wiki post on the plant
More from the invasive species atlas
I'm on Michigan State's campus and I'm here with Vern Stephens. He's a senior wildlife assistant with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
Rebecca Williams:Weíre out here so you can show me this stuff. Does it live up to its name?
Vern Stephens: Yes, it does. Itís a horrible plant. In fact if we look at it a little more weíll see itís actually a series of ropes and vines that entangle upon themselves, and if we try to walk through it we wonít get very far.
(sound of Stephens pulling on vine)
And you can see the rope thatís formed, itís growing up this high bush cranberry. But you can see that the plant is easy to identify if you know what it looks like because itís a very glossy leaf. It stands right out and itís very waxy. It can go anywhere. It can adapt. And on some of the sites it was only a small patch for five years. And then the plant acclimated. And then it exploded. And now itís taken over 20 acres of woodlot. When we say taken over, itís at least chest high. Vines that look like this inch think rope everywhere. You canít even walk through it. So it makes it very difficult.
RW: Before you pointed this out to me, I wouldnít have known what it was. It just looks like any other Michigan plant.
VS: Right. And thatís the problem. This actually is a plant that becomes a biological trap for monarchs. They go to it because itís in the milkweed family. And then lay their eggs on it and either the eggs donít hatch or the butterflies, the caterpillars, die, because itís toxic to them. Nothing feeds on it because itís toxic to cattle. Itís toxic to horses or any animal that grazes on it. So if it gets into a pasture it becomes a problem.
RW: How long has this plant been in Michigan and how did it get here?
VS: We donít know exactly how long itís been in Michigan but back in the 1850ís is when it came to the United States. We suspect it was brought in through botanical gardens and escaped. It doesnít take very many pods to all of a sudden populate an area.
RW: So we see pictures of kudzu in the south where itís covering trees, telephone poles, cars...
VS: Thatís what this looks like in Springfield Township. On the corner of Davisburg Highway and Dixie Highway. Itís just columns. Going up the guide wires to the poles, going up the trees, covering the trees. Itís unbelievable.
RW: How widespread could this get in Michigan?
VS: If itís made it to Petoskey and itís on the west side of the state, weíve found some in Grand Rapids, and itís on the southeast side of the state, itís just a matter of time before itís everywhere. If we donít do anything at all. Iím not convinced we donít have populations in the UP. I donít know that weíre on top of it, but I know we have a good idea on where itís at and what its capabilities are.
RW: Vern Stephens is a senior wildlife assistant with the wildlife division of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Thank you very much.
VS: Youíre welcome.
RW: If you want to find out what dog-strangling vine looks like, you can go to our website, environment report.org. Iím Rebecca Williams.