Killing the kudzu

Wednesday, December 22, 2004 at 12:00am

Driving through Tennessee you see it everywhere - kudzu. Along the highways it's all over the ground and low-lying bushes and it hangs down from the trees and telephone wires. How in the world do you get rid of this all-consuming weed?

A company that knows how to eliminate "the vine that ate the South", plus hundreds of other undesirable plants, is Nashville-based Invasive Plant Control Inc. In fact, the company not only knows how, it has teams of people traveling nationwide eradicating these unsightly blights that strangle the life out of wanted native plants and trees.

"These silent invaders are not native to the U.S.," said Steve Manning, president of Invasive Plant Control. "The problem is that they were brought into this country from overseas and have no or few natural enemies to keep them under control, so they spread and spread."

Manning said there are over 200 species of plants in America that fit this description.

In Tennessee, besides kudzu that came from China, some of the other invading plants include Japanese bush honeysuckle, Chinese privet, Japanese stiltgrass and English ivy.

"We have made a lot of headway in Tennessee and nationwide, but there is still a long way to go," Manning said.

Manning and his employees have various methods of destroying the unwanted vegetation. Working in teams of two or more people, they use tools to dig out and cut the plants down. They also use herbicides, targeting the roots for application, thus not spraying everything. If necessary, specially selected insects are introduced to eat the targeted plants.

In most cases, they have to come back many times for up to five years to make sure all traces of the plants have been eradicated.

Invasive Plant Control works all around Nashville. Some of the most recognized areas are the Edwin and Percy Warner parks that comprise the 2,684 acres of Warner Parks.

"We have received a grant from Monsanto to help us pay for the control of the pest plants," said Eleanor Willis, executive director of Friends of Warner Parks. "Invasive Plant Control knows how to recognize these plants, how to best take care of them including applying the herbicides and how not to damage the native plants. They have donated a lot of their time for free."

The biggest plant problem in the Nashville parks and neighboring yards is Japanese honeysuckle. There are also several other pest plants, but they are not as extensive.

"What they do is wonderful," said Bob Parrish, superintendent of Natural Resources Management for Metro Parks and Recreation.

Because the problem is so extensive and unwanted plants continue to pop up elsewhere, the Warner Parks also uses staff to remove the invasive plants and has groups of volunteers that come routinely to help. Area groups offering support include HCA, MTSU and Belmont University.

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