Posts Tagged ‘Invasive species’

Kudzu: the semi-good, the bad and the stinky

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

kudzu growing over abandoned vehicles in Tennessee

I'm way afield on this post, but I just couldn't resist. I was reading The Wall Street Journal one recent morning and ran across an article with the intriguing title, "Bug Battle: An Invasive Plant Now Faces Its Own Attacker." The plant of course was kudzu. I thought it was widespread...somewhere in the South, and accidentally introduced, forty years or so ago,  into the United States. I decided due diligence was needed here as in my other background research and looked for both the "bug" and the history of kudzu itself. I was hooked on the story within an hour.

It turns out that the introduction of kudzu into North America was more complex and multi-layered than I had ever suspected. The first mention of it in the United States dates back 135 years to the Centennial Exposition of 1876. Then, as one small part of a multi-national effort to celebrate the birth of our country, kudzu was shown as an ornamental vine at the Japanese Pavilion. In 1902 a botanist named David Fairchild, who had seen it used as pasturage in Japan, planted seedlings around his Washington, DC home. In the 1920s owners of a Florida nursery promoted its usage for forage and sold plants through mail-order.

Then came the Great Depression of the 1930s: the Civilian Conservation Corps gave jobs to hundreds of men planting kudzu for erosion control. In the 1940s Channing Cope, the farm editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and one of the South's best-known and most influential radio broadcasters, started Kudzu Clubs to honor the so-called "miracle vine (July 4, 1949 edition of Time Magazine).

Kudzu spread, growing as much as a foot per day in the Southeast during Summer and sixty feet a year overall. In 1953, the US Department of Agriculture banned kudzu as a cultivated crop, but by then its aggressive growth had started taking over many thousands of acres. One prominent US Forest Service researcher tried various herbicides as control methods: over an 18-year period  he didn't find a single agent that effectively controlled the vine; one actually promoted its growth.

A variety of uses for kudzu have been promoted by ingenious American scientists and merchants: an Agronomist at Tuskegee University found that angora goats could control the noxious plant on otherwise unusable land while simultaneously producing wool and milk. Others sell baskets made from kudzu, turn its blossoms into jelly and produce hay high in nutritive value. Potential drugs developed from kudzu are in the research pipeline, but not yet ready for human use in this country (though utilized for hundreds of years elsewhere).

But it now occupies over eight million acres of the Southeast and its native antagonist, a relative to stink bugs, wasn't found in the United States until 2009.

The Kudzu bug

Now it's here, first discovered on the exterior of homes in northeast Georgia, but spreading rapidly to sixty Georgia counties, parts of the Carolinas and Tennesee. Megacopta cribaria, kudzu bugs, are small (4-6 mm long), olive-green and when crushed or disturbed, produce a "mildy offensive" odor. They also munch kudzu effectively with estimates of up to a third of the current infestation being eaten over the next decade. Unfortunately, perhaps inevitably, they like soybeans as well; perhaps the next step is to import the wasp that eats their eggs in Japan.

But then what...

Great tongue-in-cheek article on growing kudzu: 32nd Annual Blythewood Kudzu Festival Kudzu Growing Tips

A gastronomic slant on invasive species

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

So that's a lionfish

I normally think of invasive species as plants that are non-indigenous, kudzu comes to mind. Actually, in our Colorado garden areas, a plant called bindweed invades and takes over unless we are diligent about weeding. When I Googled it, I found it did indeed meet the definition more commonly used, a plant or animal imported from another country or continent (in bindweed's case Eurasia), sometimes for seemingly logical reasons (e.g., as an ornamental or to control another species regarded as a pest).

But let's switch gears. There was an article in The New York Times on July 10, 2011 that caught my attention. Its title was "Answer for Invasive Species: Put It on a Plate and Eat It," and it began with a photo of a flamboyant fish, the lionfish. That led me to the website for Food and Water Watch, a non-profit, independent organization with an impressive and eclectic Board of Directors and a mission to ensure the food, water and fish we consume are safe, accessible and sustainably produced.

Their 2011 Smart Seafood Guide now has "Recommended Invasive Species" Many of these, once introduced into a new habitat, have no natural predators, so the suggestion is that we fill that niche. For instance we could eat the lionfish, which, according to the NYT article, is devastating reef fish, both in the Caribbean and coastally, off Florida. But caught by spearfishing and braised in brown butter sauce, lionfish tastes wonderful.

The Nature Conservancy sponsored a lionfish food fair a year ago, paying local fisherfolk $11 a pound for the pesty fish. The fritters made from this invasive species went over well with the crowd. There was concern with lionfish, as with many other species, about the possibility of toxins from microbes, so selective fishing from "clean" areas was necessary.

The Smart Seafood Guide I downloaded from Food and Water Watch lists eight other species as potential menu items. Asian carp, which are not bottom feeders, are caught with nets of several kinds or even on hook and line. They've spread from the Southeast through floods and are moving toward the great Lakes. They eat plankton in amounts out of proportion to their size and thus compete with native fishes. They're a bony fish and a NYC chef, the James Beard Foundation and Food and Water Watch have combined in an effort to develop recipes for these and others of the unwanted species.

The Beard Foundation's VP noted that we've gone from weeding out some plant species to regarding them as delicacies; perhaps we can do the same with our Asian crabs, Asian carp, lionfish, Asian swamp eels, Chinese mitten crabs, European green crabs, rusty crayfish, walking catfish (able to live out of water for short periods and move short distances on land), and two species of tilapia.

spearfishing is the way to catch lionfish

There are a number of other avenues being explored to control these critters and we'll also need to prevent their deliberate further spread once the profit motivation comes into play.

But to me, it sounds like it's time for a fish dinner