Lack of human-assisted dispersal means Pueraria montana var. lobata (kudzu vine) could still be eradicated from South Africa
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The legume, Pueraria montana var. lobata (kudzu vine) is one of the worst plant invaders globally. Here we present the first study of P. montana in South Africa. We found only seven P. montana populations covering an estimated condensed area of 74 hectares during the height of the growing season. Based on a species distribution model, it appears that large parts of the globe are suitable, including parts of the eastern escarpment of South Africa (where most populations occur). South African populations of P. montana appear to have a similar ecology to populations in the USA: high growth rates, low seed germination, no natural long-distance dispersal, little herbivory and vigorous post-fire resprouting. In contrast to the USA, most South African populations do flower and flowers are capable of producing seed in the absence of pollinators. However, P. montana appears to have never been widely planted in South Africa, and the incursion was for many years restricted to a single introduction site. The comparison between the invasions of P. montana in the USA and South Africa highlights the often overriding importance of human assisted dispersal and cultivation in creating widespread invasions, and should serve as a warning to people who have proposed to utilize the species in Africa.