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Fungus Could KO Kudzu

By Tara Weaver-Missick
February 1, 2000

A fungus from the sicklepod plant, which is found in the southeastern United States, effectively controls kudzu, a non-native invasive weed that has crept over more than 7 million acres in this country, according to Agricultural Research Service scientists in Stoneville, Miss.

In greenhouse and field studies, the scientists found that the fungus Myrothecium verrucaria killed 100 percent of kudzu weeds.

Plant pathologists C. Douglas Boyette and Hamed K. Abbas treated kudzu at different growth stages and under varying physical and environmental conditions. In all cases, the fungus effectively controlled the weed. This research was done in collaboration with ARS’ Southern Weed Science Research Unit and Louisiana Tech University.

Kudzu, native to eastern Asia, was introduced into the eastern and southern United States in the 1800s. It was originally promoted for erosion control and as an inexpensive forage for livestock. It is now present from Florida to New York, westward to central Oklahoma and Texas, with heavy infestations in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

Kudzu resembles a giant bean stalk. It spreads about 120,000 acres a year, resulting in losses due to reduced land productivity. Control costs increase by nearly $6 million each year. Homeowners have a hard time controlling this weed, which will grow up the sides of buildings, along fences and on telephone poles.

Typical--but not highly efficient--control methods include treating with herbicides and mowing. Many consumers are reluctant to spray herbicides, and mowing doesn’t kill the weed’s underground root system. ARS’ fungicide should provide an alternative to herbicides. One spray treatment kills leaves and stems and appears to invade the plant’s roots.

The researchers are doing extensive toxicological studies on the fungus, and plan to pursue a patent on it. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief research agency.

Scientific contact: C. Douglas Boyette, ARS Southern Weed Science Research Unit, Stoneville, Miss., phone (601) 686-5217, fax (601) 686-5422,