There was a time in the South when planting kudzu was not viewed as botanical vandalism, but as a community-spirited gesture. The vine, imported from Asia, was intended to control erosion and provide forage for livestock.
Some things just don’t work out.
Today kudzu is an invasive pest throughout the South, where it can grow up to a foot a day. It smothers trees, houses and if you move too slowly it might even smother you. Pretty much the only thing that will eat a mature kudzu vine is goats. If you lack goats, eradicating it takes years of herbicidal dousing.
Which leads us to a muddle-headed idea from an S.C.-based company: to plant 330 acres of eucalyptus trees genetically modified to withstand cold weather. The idea is that the tree, native to Australia, could be used commercially to make paper and as fuel for power plants. The Summerville, S.C.-based ArborGen, says the hybrid it would use can’t easily reproduce.
People thought kudzu was a good idea, too. The problem of invasive plants is growing as fast as, well, you know. It’s not just kudzu. Have you ever tried to get rid of wisteria gone wild? Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy or privet?
The major harm from invasive plants isn’t that they’re landscaping annoyances; it’s that they crowd out and smother native species. That means birds and other animals that rely on those native plants die out, too. A whole ecosystem fails.
Although one form of eucalyptus is already on a U.S. Forest Service list of invasive plants, ArborGen in May won federal permits for seven test sites, including one 75 miles from Charlotte in Marlboro County, S.C. A U.S. Department of Agriculture analysis concluded the test hybrids aren’t likely to create a pest plant.
We say, remember kudzu. For decades the federal Soil Conservation Service promoted it. And then it was too late.
And one reason kudzu hasn’t devoured the whole continent – yet – is that it prefers mild winters. Can you imagine the horror if it had been genetically modified to withstand cold weather?
Click here to read another Charlotte Observer article, “Groups Oppose GE Eucalyptus Trees“.
Also see A Silent Forest: The growing threat of genetically engineered trees. Or, buy the film at Amazon.