By Bob Gordon

Last summer, kudzu, an aggressive invasive plant species, was found in Ontario for the first time, growing along Pigeon Bay on the north shore of Lake Erie, south of Leamington. Michael Oldham, a scientist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, identified the plant, whose rapid rate of growth – 30 centimetres per day in ideal conditions – has earned it nicknames like “the vine that ate the South.” Wherever it spreads, the plant quickly displaces native species and has become the bane of farmers who have discovered the vine thriving in their fields in many parts of the southern United States.

Rowan Sage of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto is wary about the future effects of kudzu in this province. “We know it can be bad, we just have to look south of the border. It could become really aggressive like we see in the southeast United States.”

Introduced to North America in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, kudzu, a vine in the pea family, was included in a group of plants the Japanese government provided for a Japanese garden exhibit. Over the next 75 years, railway companies used the vine as erosion-resistant ground cover on trackside cuttings and embankments. Throughout the Southern U.S., farmers planted kudzu as a nutritionally rich ground cover and forage plant to replace cotton plants.

The research of University of Toronto PhD candidate Heather Coiner indicates that kudzu could spread as rapidly in Ontario as it has in the southeastern United States. However, she notes that the growing season for kudzu in Ontario is not nearly as long as the growing season in southern regions.

Rachel Gagnon of the Ontario Invasive Plant Council (OIPC) is also concerned by the arrival of kudzu.

“We need to take immediate action in Ontario to stop kudzu in its tracks.” To this end she encourages anyone who sees the vine to contact the OIPC Hotline at 1-800-563-7711, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs at 1-877-424-1300 or 519-826-4047, or a local conservation authority.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is producing a document about managing risks related to kudzu, focusing on aggressive border controls, and other agencies and academics are analyzing eradication strategies that may include grazing and weed removal.