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Kudzu on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, near Leamington, Ont.
Kudzu on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, near Leamington, Ont.

'Vine that ate the South' has landed in the Great White North Add to ...

It moves quickly, stretching across the countryside and engulfing trees, fences and homes.

Growing by as much as a foot per day, it reaches up hydro poles and across transmission wires, eventually collapsing them under its weight. It overtakes and suffocates trees and crops, pollutes watersheds and costs the U.S. agriculture industry a reported $500-million per year.

And now, the perennial and invasive kudzu vine has made it to Canada.

The kudzu was discovered two months ago in a small patch, 110 metres wide and 30 metres deep, on a south-facing slope on the shore of Lake Erie near Leamington, Ont., about 50 kilometres east of Windsor.

"It gets into a landscape and just takes over, and excludes just about everything else," said Rowan Sage, an ecology professor at the University of Toronto. "Once they [kudzu plants]get established and become endemic, they're just catastrophic."

Ecologist Gerald Waldron made the Leamington find while walking along the beach. He spotted the kudzu instantly, having read about its destructive expansion in the southeastern United States - where the voracious plant, imported from Japan and used to fight erosion, is now known as "the vine that ate the South."

A report in Science Daily pegs the U.S. cost of fighting the kudzu at $500-million annually in herbicides and lost crops. Meanwhile, Leamington, known for its tomatoes, is one of Ontario's most lush farming regions.

"We've got a lot of good fertile land. I'm sure we're going to be monitoring it," said John Adams, mayor of the Municipality of Leamington.

"We will continue to monitor that piece in Leamington there," said Albert Tenuta, a field crop plant pathologist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. A sample of the patch was sent for testing in Ottawa to ensure it isn't carrying soybean rust.

There are about 440 invasive plants in Ontario, said Rachel Gagnon of the Ontario Invasive Plant Council. And "kudzu is definitely one of the worst," she said.

The kudzu could be managed, or even harvested. Prof. Sage wrote an academic paper exploring its use in biofuels. But if Ontario wishes to defeat the kudzu, officials must meet it head-on with mowers and everyday herbicides, he said.

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