July 25, 2013
Kudzu, the invasive plant dubbed "the vine that ate the south," is leaving its mark on Charlottesville.
"It is designed to grow very fast on purpose, and that's what it does -- sometimes too much," said Chris Gensic, park and trail planner for the City of Charlottesville.
These blankets of green leaves smother native plants, in turn killing trees, swallowing fields and creeping into yards.
"Not that many people go out and really cut it back or deal with it. A lot of it's on private property, so you can't," said Gensic. "So, generically speaking, you're seeing a lot more kudzu in a lot more places than you used to."
The city's invasive species management budget was decreased for the year, beginning July 1. That means fewer resources to get it under control.
"A couple of years ago, we were able to hire the goats to come out and clear a kudzu patch at Pen Park. We'd like to do that again, but with the current budget, it doesn't look like we'll be able to this year," said Gensic. "We'll just have to stick to using machines and hand lappers and spraying things where you need to to kill it back."
Kudzu, which was deliberately planted in the southeastern United States in the early 1900's, was originally used to prevent erosion. Decades later, it hasn't stopped spreading.
"Since it was introduced, it's been nothing but increasing across the southeast," said Gensic.
The vines, which thrive in the warm and wet weather, have twisted their way to the train tracks at McIntire Park, trickled into backyards and covered the area along the Meadow Creek Parkway.
"You can see the kudzu coming in from the railroad, coming in from the forest, and it's already swallowing the bike lanes," said Gensic. "The city is eventually going to take over maintenance of all of that park land. VDOT doesn't do quite as much regular mowing there, and you can see where kudzu is really swallowing that road."
When it is not controlled, the vines can grow up to a foot a day in the right environment.
"If you've ever been to Georgia, they'll lose whole fields in a matter of weeks," said Gensic.
Glenna Pritzlaff moved to Charlottesville from Atlanta.
"It was twice as bad there," said Pritzlaff. "We had no grass. It was pretty much just all kudzu."
But Pritzlaff says she has noticed more of the vines in the commonwealth over the years.
"I grew up in Virginia. I don't remember the kudzu being so bad, but I noticed it when we lived in Atlanta. Now, it's starting to look more like it did there here," said Pritzlaff.
Gensic says the city tries to preserve the natural landscape by removing vines that drape throughout the forest.
"It's not so terrible running along the ground, but if it's eating your urban forest, which a lot of people love to see the trees, we do want to cut it out of there as much as we can," he said.
But Gensic says the city, which is already dealing with a small budget dedicated to invasive species, can use all the help it can get from homeowners who find the plant to be a nuisance in their own backyards.
"The city is going to do everything it can over time to at least keep it contained where we can, get rid of it where we can, but without private property assistance, it'll continue to spread across other areas of the city," said Gensic.
Gensic says, as long as its leaves are frequently cut, kudzu will eventually run out of stored nutrition and die.
"Persistence is the key word because it's a very persistent plant," said Gensic.