An invasive plant known as the '"vine that ate the South" highlighted a weed tour in Otoe County Wednesday.
The plant, kudzu, is not found anywhere else in Nebraska, but may have been growing on a patch in the Missouri River basin for 80 years.
Weed superintendents from 13 of the 15 counties in the state's Southeast Region, as well as representatives of the state Game and Parks, Nemaha Natural Resources District and Five Rivers Weed Area surveyed the former railroad corridor, now known as Steamboat Trace bicycle trail.
Chris Helzer, a member of the Nebraska Invasive Species Council and the eastern Nebraska program director for The Nature Conservancy, led the tour of 28 weed managers and landowners.
Kudzu earned its reputation in the South as an invasive vine that rapidly grows up to 100 feet in length and sometimes covers buildings, trees and other objects in its path.
Aaron Stalder of the Nemaha NRD and Five Rivers Weed Area said it is widely assumed that the railroad introduced the plant many decades ago to control erosion on the steep slope above the tracks.
He said the plant has been recently subjected to spraying, but has not been eradicated.
Otoe County Weed Manager John Bebout killed about 75 percent of the patch with a spraying last fall, but pointed out to the group Tuesday how a landslide resulted.
Stalder said the situation is a great example of the value of weed tours.
He said all the weed managers are familiar with the invasive plants, but each may have different experiences with control methods.
Bebout, who said no one has ever reported seeing the kudzo bloom at its Nebraska location, asked Helzer if it should be left alone for erosion control.
Helzer said an alternative plant should be introduced when the kudzo is eradicated.
On the trail, Helzer pointed out poisonous hemlock growing prolifically along the trail and waterways.
The plant is not on the noxious weed list, but its range is growing in Nebraska and it's poisonous to humans and animals.
Marty Hein of Sarpy County said the tour helps managers stay aware of weeds that may soon be a nuisance in their jurisdiction.
Helzer also found plenty of samples of mustard garlic, a prolific, edible plant that is dormant over winters. It secretes chemicals that dissuade other plants and grows in such density other plants can be shut out.
Garlic mustard at Indian Cave State Park threatens oak tree seedlings and consequently threatens the park's next generation of oak trees.
Krista Lang, land conservation technician, said the park is controlling the plant with spraying and hand pulling.
The tour also featured buck brush, yellow-flowered clover called black medic, common reed, Japanese knotweed, cutleaf teasel and reed canary grass.
Page 2 of 2 - Helzer said the catchfly is a nice, native plant that produces a sticky substance on the underside of leaves.
He denounced the reed canary grass as having invaded eastern Nebraska at the expense of other grasses.
Weed managers also pointed out Jack in the Pulpit and dogwood growing along the trail.
Nate Walker, a representative of the Northern Prairie Land Trust from Beatrice, said the tour encourages collaboration among weed managers and helps educate landowners about invasive weeds.