Invasive Species
October 20, 2009 8:30 PM   Subscribe

What do Kudzu, the Northern Snakehead, St. Johnswort, and the Air Potato have in common? They're all invasive species. USDA's National Invasive Species Information Center and the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health have got you covered.

If you really want to scare yourself, read the USDA's Invasive Species weblog. A week ago they reported on the possibility of boas, anacondas, and pythons becoming established in the US. They estimate that there are already tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in the wild in southern Florida.
posted by Chocolate Pickle (40 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Invasive for you, maybe.
posted by pompomtom at 8:42 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

So are dandelions, but in that case the cat's pretty much out of the bag.
I still don't get how some people can be so outraged at all the nice yellow flowers marring their perfect green lawns.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:43 PM on October 20, 2009

This is eerily similar to a short story by Stephen King, called Weeds. It was later a segment in the film Creepshow. Hm...I think it's time I rent this movie again, just in time for Halloween.
posted by Taft at 8:46 PM on October 20, 2009

Here's what kudzu will do. Seeing kudzu like this covering trees along the interstate was my first WTF? moment when I came to North Carolina.
posted by marxchivist at 8:47 PM on October 20, 2009

My personal favorite is Garlic Mustard. Makes a nice pesto.

You can always put invasive species to good use.
posted by clarknova at 8:53 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

The leaves of the air potato look like what is used in Thai cuisine to wrap up that tasty appetizer Mieng Kham. I wonder if they are related?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:09 PM on October 20, 2009

Kudzu grows FAST, too. Go on vacation, it might cover your car when you get back. It'll grow up to a foot a day.
posted by empath at 9:32 PM on October 20, 2009

Kudzu, ah, my state flower (well, it should be). Kudzu can be used in all sorts of interesting ways, all of which presupose you are ACTUALLY WILLING to wade out into kudzu and cut the stuff, which is an itchy and dangerous prospect.

Also, of note, one of my great uncles had a goat that died due to eating kudzu. As best we can tell, the animal literally ate until it killed itself.
posted by strixus at 9:35 PM on October 20, 2009

I was saddened to learn that the Air Potato in no way resembles the French Fry Tree of my dreams.
posted by benzenedream at 11:10 PM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

From what I understand, Kudzu was less of an invasion, and more of an aggressive importation that...backfired. Badly.
posted by effugas at 11:42 PM on October 20, 2009

The leaves of the air potato look like what is used in Thai cuisine to wrap up that tasty appetizer Mieng Kham. I wonder if they are related?

You tickled something in the back of my mind, but after checking my cookbooks they're not related, even if they look a lot alike. The leaves used in Thai wraps (Cha Plu) are Piper sarmentosum, relatives of the Betel nut and members of the pepper family. The air potato is named Dioscorea bulbifera and is a member of the yam family, pretty distant to the peppers.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:55 PM on October 20, 2009

A lot of what become invasive species are deliberately imported and then go feral and cause problems. For instance, those pythons in Florida are all descended from pets which escaped or were deliberately released.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:56 PM on October 20, 2009


IIRC, the first few were excapees from fishtanks during huricanes. Maybe not, but it's a good story.

And they're predators too: they just wander over to a naive fish that didn't co-evolve with them, who thinks "ooh, pretty tendr-STING-urk"
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:41 AM on October 21, 2009

In a larger sense, all species are "invasive".
posted by telstar at 1:48 AM on October 21, 2009

The biggest problem with invasive species is the rate that we are introducing them around the world, and the inability of natural systems to adapt quickly enough without losing many species, often for good. Think of chestnut blight, a fungus that virtually eliminated one of the dominant forest trees of the eastern U.S. Right now something similar is happening to hemlock trees in the east from an introduced insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid. There are problems with things like zebra mussels drastically altering aquatic ecosystems, or things like earthworms, which everyone thinks are always great, but they're changing forest soils and species regeneration throughout the northern tier states. The species I mentioned are only a few of the U.S. problems; and thousands of things like this are going on worldwide.
Nature is adaptable, and things will always go on living in some state or other. It's not so much that changes are bad, because change is inevitable in natural systems; we're just acting like a planet-wide extinction event with the shit we do so rapidly, and it doesn't really have to be that way.
posted by Red Loop at 3:28 AM on October 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this is anecdotal but around here (SF bay area) this year seemed particularly bad for infestations of sweet fennel. That shit is no joke, it seems to grow anywhere and is huge (up to 10 feet tall.) It simply takes over. You could be walking down a trail and suddenly you're surrounded by walls of the stuff.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:31 AM on October 21, 2009

Related to clarknova's links above:
Green Deane
A garlic mustard recipe from You Grow Girl
posted by crataegus at 4:48 AM on October 21, 2009

Yeah, they've got me covered, all right, covered in invasive RED FIRE ANTS! OW owowowowowowowow
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:39 AM on October 21, 2009

As a child of the American south, I am intimately familiar with kudzu, and have always felt some sort of kinship with the plant. I can't adequately explain that, but I would like to relate an experience involving kudzu, from my youth:

When I turned 19 and moved out of my father's home, I got a little apartment (85 dollars a month!) on Birmingham's Southside, which is an old residential area adjacent to downtown Birmingham, Alabama. This apartment was in a building situated on the side of Red Mountain, just below B'ham's legendary Vulcan, in an old apartment complex called Letchworth: 6 little buildings, faux English Tudor style, built on a surprisingly steep slope. My kitchen, shower and bedroom windows looked out onto this slope, which, aside from the Letchworth apartment buildings, was entirely covered in a thick layer of kudzu.

One day I was taking a shower, when I heard a loud bang and some metal crunching noises. Outside my shower window, an automobile was bouncing down the side of Red Mountain: it had left the road (20th Street, which winds from Red Mountain down into Southside and downtown Birmingham) and was making its way down the mountainside. Very noisily. Both the hood and the trunk doors were flapping up and down like the wings of some giant bird. It was a shocking site. I jumped out of the shower, threw on some clothes and ran outside. Other neighbors at Letchworth were doing the same. We reached the auto (no mean feat, actually, through that thick kudzu) and saw that the deep tangle of vines had been wholly responsible for bringing that car to a halt. Without them, the car would have, without doubt, continued downward to slam into the next street down (16th Avenue) and would've likely landed smack dab into one of the houses on that street. Thanks to the kudzu, though, proceedings had come to a halt about halfway down the slope. The driver of the car was, of course, stunned, but completely unhurt. not a scratch on him.

Kudzu saved his life for sure.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:54 AM on October 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Researchers at UAB believe kudzu may prove medically useful.

flapjax, that story was incredible. First off because I always wondering who lived in those apartments (I was too scared they would slide down the mountain and lived in the Berkley on Highland instead), but also because any story involving the power of kudzu is amazing.

I will admit, though, that I honestly thought two different things. At first, I thought the kudzu had forced its way through your wall and created then noise. Then I thought the kudzu had grown into the car and pulled it down the mountain.

For people who don't live in the South, neither one of my ideas is *entirely* outside the realm of possibility, just so you know. This stuff is INTENSE.
posted by jefficator at 7:44 AM on October 21, 2009

So are dandelions, but in that case the cat's pretty much out of the bag.

Cats are #38 on another list of invasive species.
posted by electroboy at 7:57 AM on October 21, 2009

Where I am, along Maine's coast, I've sent time attempting to eradicate Japanese knotweed -- bamboo-like plants that can sprout from a gram of root and get up to ten, fifteen feet tall, denying any competition underneath. It takes years, possibly decades, to cause a knotweed system to die out thoroughly. Knotweed seems to be one single clone, has no native controls outside of Japan, and has infested the British Isles, the Pacific Northwest and much of the northeastern United States.

I haven't even seen kudzu or cogongrass up close in my travels down South, but given my knotweed experiences up here, I can sympathize. Perhaps someday we will invent a method of controlling those noxious flora without causing collateral damage.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 8:20 AM on October 21, 2009

I had no idea there were invasive earthworms, and that earthworms could damage an ecosystem. Earthworms have such good PR, what with all the composting types out there.

Has anyone here tried "air potato"? Is it any good?

Does kudzu kill poison ivy? Because then I could learn to live with it, frankly.
posted by emjaybee at 8:22 AM on October 21, 2009

posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:37 AM on October 21, 2009

I had no idea there were invasive earthworms, and that earthworms could damage an ecosystem. Earthworms have such good PR, what with all the composting types out there.

That's really the problem with introducing new species. Sometimes you get honeybees, sometimes you get emerald ash borers.

I didn't see earthworms on the list. They're definitely non-native, but the only thing I could find w/r/t invasive species was an advisory not to dump marine bait worms.
posted by electroboy at 8:44 AM on October 21, 2009

Oops, nevermind. I see it now.
posted by electroboy at 8:46 AM on October 21, 2009

"Air potato" sounds like a euphemism for flatulence.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:52 AM on October 21, 2009

Japanese knotweed

This stuff is excellent for making bug houses though. Just take the the dried out stalks and cut them into sections about 3 inches long. tie them into a bundle and hang somewhere so bees and what not can climb into the hollow tubes.

Beats the hell out of paying £20 for a bug home at a garden center.

I generally don't worry too much about invasive species. It's evolution in action. Nature does a pretty good job of sorting this stuff out. Of course Nature's sorted out may not match up with a human notion of sorted out.
posted by srboisvert at 9:01 AM on October 21, 2009

Interesting post. I live on a wooded lot in central North Carolina and the grassy and wood-edge areas of my yard have been totally taken over by an annoying little fast-growing grass. I never knew what it was but this thread got me interested and I found a site listing Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States. It looks like what I have is Nepalese browntop, which I've never heard of before.

Well, at least I think that's what it is. It basically makes it impossible for me to plant anything. I'm horrible with lawns though, so I may break down and let some landscaper dump a bunch of nasty chemicals on it.

Anyone else seen something like this in their yards? It also seems to "stem" (har har) from the low-lying creek area behind the house and sort of swarms up the hill.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:15 AM on October 21, 2009

freecellwizard: Yes, Microstegium is a common invasive species in NC now. Come to Duke Forest, we have more of it than any native herbaceous vegetation.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:38 AM on October 21, 2009

> In a larger sense, all species are "invasive".
> posted by telstar at 4:48 AM on October 21 [+] [!]

And it strikes me that those featherless bipeds are the wrong ones to be pointing fingers.
posted by jfuller at 9:48 AM on October 21, 2009

Does kudzu kill poison ivy? Because then I could learn to live with it, frankly.

Uh, yeah, but you'll be living under it before long. As someone else said above, you can go on vacation and come home to find your car grown over with kudzu. When I was a kid, sometimes we'd make chalk marks at the ends of the kudzu vines as they spilled into parking lots and come back the next day to find several inches of growth.

I have kudzu at the edge of my back yard and it's bothersome as I have to battle it back every year, but it's not nearly as annoying to me personally as another invasive species, privet. That stuff grows fast and is woody with runners and super hard to kill. At least the kudzu is just proper vines.
posted by notashroom at 9:59 AM on October 21, 2009

Does Air Potato have daily flights to Boise?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:54 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my spare time I kill invasive plants in the green belt near my house. Recently, an environmental group successfully petitioned local government to halt invasive removal for 6 months out of the year because it may inhibit breeding in some plummeting local songbird populations. The bird populations are in danger due to habitat disappearing and to predation by cats.

So, I can't help rehab usable habitat during the 6 months when it is easiest to work in the woods because some people think it's okay to let their cats wander freely. No one wants to upset the poor cat owners, but dammit, we need to treat any cat not on a leash or in a house as the invasive species it is. Some places do. I envy those places.
posted by Seamus at 12:41 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

so I may break down and let some landscaper dump a bunch of nasty chemicals on [Nepalese browntop].

Eh, don't do that, if possible. I suspect there are management methods less ruinous to the soil and to nearby water sources. I recommend further research!
posted by Jubal Kessler at 1:07 PM on October 21, 2009

A volunteer group in Spartanburg, SC has come up with a pretty good method of stopping kudzu, and apparently it's catching on because I see far less of the stuff then I used too around this fair state. Sadly, I have an infestation of the stuff on my property, and just can't be troubled to do anything other than mow it back every so often. However, if it eats my house or car, we'll have a rumble then.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:52 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hey, 1f2ffrfbf, i have relatives in the Greenville/Spartanburg area that I'll be sending that link to. Thanks.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:49 PM on October 21, 2009

Air + Potatoes
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:02 PM on October 22, 2009

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