Kudzu to You

The invasive vine has landed in Washington.

Kudzu to You

THE ISSUE OF INVASIVE species “has polarized the gardening community,” Valerie Easton noted in a recent Seattle Times profile of world-renowned “plant explorer” Dan Hinkley, “because the chance of introducing the next kudzu will always conflict with the desire to find new plants.” Indeed, invasives—imported species that run amok— constitute the worst threat to biodiversity in many locales, especially tropical islands like Hawaii. And plant lovers have spread many a weed, from English ivy to Himalayan blackberries, just as bird lovers brought us starlings and English sparrows. American gardeners took to the kudzu vine after discovering it in a garden at the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. It soon escaped and, growing up to a foot a day, overran the South. Now, instead of talking about things that “grow like Topsy,” we say they “spread like kudzu.”

Forget the next kudzu, for a moment: The conquering vine itself has made it to Washington. The first known vine in the state appeared at Hazel Dell, near Vancouver, last fall, and it surely wasn’t the only one to cross the Columbia River. Kudzu infested three Oregon sites in 2000 after leapfrogging cross-continent from the Midwest, and it’s probably established there. The Hazel Dell vine didn’t get the sort of press that the state’s first West Nile virus sighting received last month, but if it grows as it has in the South, kudzu may prove harder to get rid of.

Easton notes that Hinkley, who operates the influential Heronswood Nursery in Kirkland, takes the issue quite seriously. He has “taken a stand against invasives in his catalog and hired an expert to analyze plants in advance for even the possibility of invasiveness.” Indeed, this botanical Frank Buck (Buck was the famous hunter of zoo animals whose motto was “Bring ’em back alive”), whom you might expect to be biodiversity Public Enemy No. 1, has done more than that. Hinkley was off hunting plants in Nepal last week, but the expert he’s enlisted, University of Washington invasive-plant authority Sarah Reichard, reports that “we found about 13 serious invasives on his list and he took them off. We also found about 180 potential invasives, which he’s marked ‘caution’ in his catalog.” Reichard adds that Hinkley decided on his own to stop shipping plants to Hawaii and likewise-vulnerable Florida, and took flak from gardeners there.

No big deal, says one Heronswood attendant: “It’s not really an economic issue—we don’t send much to those states anyway.” And no amount of screening can guarantee that an importer won’t introduce the next Al Qaeda of weeds. But these are still rare gestures in a profession too often given to defensive self-justification. “I consider him to be quite courageous,” says Reichard.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, who pushed for broadband funding in Washington schools. (Screenshot from murray.senate.gov)
American Rescue Plan Act funding approved for broadband investments in WA schools

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray pushed for the funding, which will benefit several King County school districts.

Courtesy photo
State offers free at-home COVID-19 tests

You can order the tests through the state’s new online portal.

Sen. Mona Das, D-47
Kent Democratic Sen. Mona Das proposes 1% cut in state sales tax

Starting in 2023; Republicans voice support for Senate Bill 5932

Federal Way police arrest suspect in fatal carjacking

35-year-old Tacoma man charged with murder in “random, brutal and senseless carjacking,” prosecutors say.

File photo.
Man accused of fatally shooting 11-year-old girl’s dog in front of her

The defendant is being charged with first-degree animal cruelty and reckeless endangerment.

Stock photo, Metro Creative Graphics
Auburn, Federal Way mayors speak out against multifamily housing bill

Leaders say they don’t need state intervention.

File photo
Non-profit sponsors study on how the pandemic impacted arts and culture in Puget Sound

The study helped identify challenges faced by residents and cultural organizations in Washington

File photo
WA lawmakers propose making companies responsible for recycling improvements

SB 5697 would compel industries to report data, invest in infrastructure, meet standards.

Governor Jay Inslee. Sound Publishing file photo
Inslee: Officials’ lies about election results should be crime

Governor wants lawmakers to pass legislation making it a gross misdemeanor.

Most Read