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Kudzu in Oklahoma. Who would have thought of it? I mean, everyone knows Kudzu is a scourge in the Southeastern United States growing “a mile a minute” (not really, but once established it can, in the right conditions, grow up to a foot a day) but most of us don’t think about it as a problem in a place like Oklahoma. After all, isn’t Oklahoma too cold and dry for a plant like this?
That may have been the case once, but not anymore.
Oklahoma has a growing kudzu problem and it doesn’t stop there. This incredibly aggressive plant has even been found as far north as Nebraska and its range will only expand as temperatures slowly increase thanks to our changing climate. And while there are only 85 or so known locations of active and healthy kudzu in Oklahoma, the outlook is for this number to increase.
According to Karen Hickman, professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Oklahoma State University (OSU), kudzu will resprout every year. Along the vine there will be a compact leaf with three leaflets at every node, which will root wherever there is an opportunity and create a new individual plant. This opportunistic plant produces runners that travel along the ground, up structures and even around itself to gain support to reach another structure. Even with attempts to control the species in the state and in the face of droughts and cold snaps, the kudzu that has been identified in the state is going strong.
And kudzu isn’t alone. According to Hickman, there are a number of invasive plants, insects and animals that are continuing to spread as temperature changes. As we noted in an earlier blog many experts worry that the movement of the “cold line” further north has allowed the spread of species like fire ants and sugarcane aphids. Hickman said that since many of these invasive species lack the natural enemies found in their native environments, they not only have the ability to rapidly spread, they also have the ability to create a population with enough genetic diversity to allow them to more easily evolve and adapt to the new conditions they find themselves in.
In other words, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Producers should be mindful and on the lookout for species like kudzu or other expanding invasives. Landowners who need help identifying plants they think might be invasive or assistance in management of an identified invasive species should contact their local county Extension office or local USDA NRCS office for more information.
We have dealt with invasive species before. But just like droughts, floods and other forms of extreme weather, this issue is becoming more complicated thanks to our changing climate. Being forewarned is to be forearmed—we are going to be dealing with more challenges from invasive species and other pests as we move forward into the future.