transported on your motor home; zebra mussel larva ride along in the bilge of your bass boat; or garlic mustard seeds cling to your favorite hiking boots. Intentional or unintentional, movements of exotic pests lead to an overall reduction in biodiversity—a simplification of the variety in our natural world.
Kudzu was introduced from Japan and China in the 1900s. It was widely promoted, particularly in southern states, for erosion control. The “Mile-a-Minute Vine” or “The Vine That Ate the South” was even planted as an ornamental plant. The USDA recognized kudzu as a weed species in 1972 and as a noxious weed in Missouri in 2004. It is estimated that kudzu populations cover some 7 million acres across the United States.
Recently, I was sent to eradicate a kudzu population in Missouri that had been planted years ago. It had a foothold and would be difficult to dislodge. The landowner told me his mother had planted it during the depression years. She had ordered it from a catalog where it had been advertised as a “porch vine fromthe orient.” A porch vine indeed—it shrouded the abandoned farmstead and a few acres of timbered land; the crumpled trees stood strangled in the distance.
The good fight and the bad seed
Protocols for managing invasive species have been developed in recent years to protect native ecosystems. Many of these plans read like orders for military operations and use phrases in their titles like “National Strategy and Implementation Plan” or “National Early Warning and Rapid Response.” All aim to stop invasives before they get here. If they’ve already arrived, the goal is to eliminate them before they become established. And in the worst-case scenario, with established invasives, the focus becomes defending the most pristine natural settings, the true jewels.
Managing the invasion of countless exotic species requires coordination and collaboration from nationwide to local levels. Education and prevention are the first steps. Missourians need to be aware that the choices they make determine the future health of our natural resources. This means carefully considering which plants to use in landscaping, as well as inspecting and cleaning equipment that has traveled with you. These may seem like small steps, but introductions of invasives are usually relatively simple events.
Eradication is the next step, and if conducted early, disasters can sometimes be abated. This is where early detection and rapid response comes into play. This protocol is usually reserved for agricultural