Invasive kudzu, black locust and multiflora rose

Published 12:01 am Sunday, March 2, 2014

Over time I’ve misplaced a few publications from way back I wish I had held on to. One was a 1920s or early ’30s U.S. Department of Agriculture booklet that advocated planting kudzu to prevent erosion and produce forage for livestock. I still have a 1939 letter from the County Agent in Desoto County advising his farmers to plant black locust trees on idle acres. About the only advantage I see to black locusts over kudzu is at least a bulldozer can get rid of locust trees.

Another plant once promoted for planting on farms but now mostly considered a bad weed is multiflora rose. There is some wild multiflora rose in Mississippi, mostly in the north part of the state. But in some areas of the eastern U.S., multiflora rose is their kudzu.

Multiflora rose is an original, all-natural species, not a creation of people hybridizing to make new varieties. But it has contributed to the rose business several ways.

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It was first brought here from Asia as a pretty garden plant. Its rootstock has been used for grafting onto man-made varieties. And wild multiflora was cross-pollinated with “tame” roses to create both the polyantha rose class and the group called “multiflora hybrids.” The old time country favorite variety “Seven Sisters” is a multiflora hybrid rose.

Like some other imports, multiflora rose was brought here with the best of intentions. It, too, was supposed to be a good erosion preventer and serve as wildlife cover. It was also touted as a “living fence” that would grow so dense it could keep livestock confined in a pasture. In a few cases, it was even planted in the median of divided highways to serve as a crash barrier for automobiles that ran off the road at high speeds.

Hey, any plant that could keep a bull or a pickup truck from running away is bound to have some drawbacks, right? Yep, and multiflora rose proved to have enough downside to be declared illegal in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Ohio and seven other states where it makes the noxious weed list. And counting.

Living fence aside, the livestock industry was the first to endure the wrath of multiflora rose. The plant spread and took over some pastures. It choked out some native plants that were wildlife food sources. Then it spread to all kinds of open sites that were not regularly plowed or mowed.

One reason it spread so intensely is each mature plant puts out about a half million seeds every year. And the seed can germinate after many years of lying dormant.

Since multiflora rose is an original, wild species and not one of our pretty hybrid roses, its seeds will readily germinate. Plus it can root itself from live canes touching the ground.

With this problem species, the seeds need a minimum amount of cold weather to be viable. From somewhere north of Interstate 20 on down, we typically don’t get that right amount of cold. Let’s be grateful.

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.