Southerners grow up with it. Out-of-towners schlepping in off I-40 are often baffled by it.  

"Many people wanna know what to do with kudzu," a Knox County Extension Agent says. "It's something that you at want to control."

Kudzu - or Japanese arrowroot - is an invasive species native to Japan.  When it was first introduced at the 1883 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, kudzu's ability to combat erosion coupled with its pretty purple flowers made the vine seem pretty harmless to most people. The U.S. Soil Erosion Service even distributed 85 million kudzu seedlings to landowners. 

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It wasn't until the plant had already covered millions of acres in the southern United States that the USDA declared it a common weed.  It thrives on the outskirts of the trees and strangles whole forests from within.

"More recently we have another exotic insect, the kudzu bug, that comes in and feeds on legumes. Kudzu is a legume," David Vandergriff, Master Arborist and Knox County Extension Agent says. "So it has a two-prong attack."

For a lot of people moving into this area of Tennessee, becoming acquainted with kudzu is part of becoming a local. It takes time to realize the green "ivy" covering everything in sight is actually a massive pest that's capable of growing up to 60 feet in a single season.

"The growth rate is horrendous," says Vandergriff.

This plant is very hard to kill.  You can knock it with pesticide or push it's vines back with a bulldozer and still it might regenerate enough to suck the life out of your back yard.  

You can't even break off it's branches. That only encourages regrowth. 

"There's an underground tuber that is hard to kill, so it continues to pop backup," Denton says. "Diligence is the best thing to do for kudzu." 

It's ability to regenerate made it a pain in Gatlinburg, after fires devastated that area in 2016. Kudzu soon gobbled up everything in sight, replacing the mountain's natural flora with roots the size of an adult man. 

Every year, the city of Knoxville brings in a bunch of goats to get rid of the vine.

"Goats, cattle love kudzu," Denton said. "And they will simply destroy it over time, because they pick it up as soon as it comes in through the ground."

Livestock is, says Denton, one of the best ways to get this plant out of your yard. But there's certain precautions you have to take. 

"If it's in an area that can be fenced off, you can check with the regulations of your area before you do that," he says. 

 

Still, Denton says he'll settle for chemicals.  And he continues to push back the pesky vines even in wintertime, when the leaves are deadened. Because once spring rolls around, this plant can't be tamed. 

"Of course this time of year the kudzu is all brown," Vandergriff says. "But whenever we warm up again in the spring it comes back with a vengeance."