Kudzu is a perennial vine native to Asia, primarily subtropical and temperate regions of China, Japan, and Korea, with trifoliate leaves composed of three leaflets. Five species in the genus Pueraria (P. montana, P. lobata, P. edulis, P. phaseoloides and P. thomsoni) are closely related and kudzu populations in the United States seem to have ancestry from more than one of the species. Each leaflet is large and ovate with two to three lobes each and hair on the underside. The leaves have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which can supply up to 95% of leaf nitrogen to the plant in poor soils. Along the vines are nodes, points at which stems or tendrils can propagate to increase support and attach to structures. As a twining vine, kudzu uses stems or tendrils that can extend from any node on the vine to attach to and climb most surfaces. In addition, the nodes of the kudzu vine have the ability to root when exposed to soil, further anchoring the vine to the ground. The roots are tuberous and are high in starch and water content, and the twining of the plant allows for less carbon concentration in the construction of woody stems and greater concentration in roots, which aids root growth. The roots can account for up to 40% of total plant biomass.
Kudzu’s primary method of reproduction is asexual vegetative spread (cloning) which is aided by the ability to root wherever a stem is exposed to soil. For sexual reproduction, kudzu is entirely dependent on pollinators.
Although kudzu prefers forest regrowth and edge habitats with high sun exposure, the plant can survive in full sun or partial shade. These attributes of kudzu made it attractive as an ornamental plant for shading porches in the southeastern US, but they facilitated the growth of kudzu as it became a “structural parasite” of the South, enveloping entire structures when untreated and often referred to as “the vine that ate the south”.