Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Armadillo and Kudzu

     Somehow I omitted mentioning in my story - two unusual living creatures I saw on my trip to Pennsylvania.

     First is the Armadillo, which means “little armored one“ in Spanish. The 9 -Banded Armadillo is the only representative of its family in the US. I used to think it was exclusively found in Texas, but its range is spreading, even found occasionally in southern Illinois.. They have a peculiar leathery skin or shell and the only ones I saw were road kill. These burrowing animals can walk fast but have poor eyesight. When they see a vehicle coming, their instinct is to leap 3 feet (almost a meter) straight up. Unfortunately, this is a poor survival skill on a modern highway.

    Next is a plant native to Southeast Asia that we call Kudzu, Pueraria montana. It was brought here for use in erosion control about 100 years ago, and advertised as a quick shade for those porches on sun-baked southern homes. Except this perennial semi-woody vine escaped cultivation and has quickly starved native trees and shrubs of sunlight, killing their hosts. It is also a major headache for utility companies. It climbs poles and twines along overhead wires. Measured at a growing rate of a foot day in optimum conditions, the vines with their big three-part leaves can cover anything in their path in short order: parked vehicles, tractors, shacks, sheds, barns, houses, etc.

(Photo by USDA, Georgia, USA)

      I observed it in masses along the Interstate highway. Sort of a green leafy nightmare that Alfred Hitchcock would dream up or Orson Welles would film, but it was real. The only livestock that has proven to successfully control it are herds of goats. It can be cut and baled for livestock, but it is prone to molding and the vines are difficult to modify hay equipment to handle. Just another example of clever humans trying to bend nature without seeing future negative consequences. Thankfully it is still a major problem only in the southeastern US, but as it continues to spread... we may have to give up cow milk and start drinking goat milk in the future.