Kudzu defies no-trespassing warning

Unchecked, the rapacious kudzu vine creates a 
landscape of green mounds called “kudzu sculptures,” which smother the trees and plants underneath. Unchecked, the rapacious kudzu vine creates a landscape of green mounds called “kudzu sculptures,” which smother the trees and plants underneath.

What do you do when “the vine that ate the South” takes up residence in your neighborhood—and your neighbor doesn’t get rid of it?

One concerned Crozet resident pulled up some vines in a nascent kudzu infestation last year on property owned by the Rockbridge homeowners association—and was reprimanded by the HOA president for her trouble.

“No matter what your intentions were, it’s trespassing and not appreciated,” wrote Rockbridge president Sheilah Michaels on Nextdoor. 

Michaels, who did not respond to emails from C-VILLE,  suggested the HOA had a plan to deal with the vine, which can grow a foot a day. This year, the kudzu has spread and engulfed the 1.75 acres the HOA owns.

That’s what kudzu does. Originally from China and Japan, the woody perennial vine was introduced in the South as a forage crop and planted to control erosion in the early 20th century, according to a fact sheet from the Blue Ridge Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management. It’s now eaten at least 7 million acres in the Southeast, and it’s heading north.

“It’s capable of taking down any tree,” says Rod Walker, an invasive plant expert with Blue Ridge PRISM. “The big fear is with no action over time, we’ll find ourselves covered with green mounds. It overtakes everything.”

Kudzu can completely overwhelm native species—or buildings—that get in its path. There are no animals, insects, or diseases to keep it in check, says Walker, who notes that it’s not invasive in China and Japan, where it has a natural predator.

Notoriously difficult to get rid of, the vine can take several years to completely eradicate. Its growth is fueled by a tuber that can get up to 12 feet long and when mature, weigh 200 to 300 pounds. “Cooperation among neighbors is essential where this beastly vine crosses property lines, because it grows rampantly and respects no borders,” says the PRISM fact sheet.

Goats are voracious eaters who are often brought in to tackle kudzu, but their grazing doesn’t destroy the plant’s vine-producing crowns, according to PRISM. Herbicides are one of the few options for large infestations, and in smaller infestations, cutting the crown from the tuber can kill the plant, according to Walker.

Some states consider plants like kudzu noxious weeds and require the landowner to get rid of it—but that’s not the case in Virginia, says Walker.

“The HOA has to understand there’s a problem and has to take action,” he says.

That can be expensive, says a resident in Rockbridge’s bordering neighborhood, Village at Highlands, where they’re already finding the vine.

Through Nextdoor, residents in Rockbridge and the surrounding subdivisions decided to take matters into their own hands and launch an assault on the infestation last week. Within hours, Rockbridge’s property manager emailed association members to warn that the HOA could be liable if non-residents were injured.

A half dozen neighbors still gathered to tackle the infestation last Saturday. Two volunteers report that a woman told them if they didn’t live in Rockbridge, they were trespassing and should leave—and that the HOA had contacted someone about removal.

Gloria Hill lives across the street from Rockbridge. “They should deal with it because if it takes over other people’s property, then they’re responsible,” she says. “I wouldn’t want that mess in my yard.”

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