Non-native plant does double duty as erosion controller, air polluter

It can’t be argued any longer that most of the world’s nations are not on board – or are not part of – a movement to reduce pollution. In fact, the United Nations 21st annual Conference of the Parties (COP-21), bringing together leaders and climate negotiators from almost 200 countries, has been organized for the purpose of doing just that for all of last week and this one and then some in Paris, France. In so doing, the hope – at this conference’s conclusion – is that a global pact will be cemented and the world will chart a course to bring emissions under control such that a global mean temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over that of pre-industrial times can be thwarted. Many are convinced that this is not only a realistic goal, but one that is achievable as well.

It isn’t just the gain in carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions that are on the radar. Just this week, Beijing in China and in India too, some of the worst episodes of smog occurred. As a matter of fact, a red – air-pollution-danger – alert was issued in China’s capitol.

320px-Kudzu_on_trees_in_Atlanta,_Georgia[1]Be this as it may, however, today’s discussion is not about a changing climate, whether or not human activity is to blame or about making predictions regarding a perceived (by some) do-or-die outcome of a related global-warming summit. No, today’s topic has to do with a species of plant that has become invasive in the southeast U.S. in addition to how this plant – kudzu – is itself an ozone-emissions factory, in a manner of speaking.

Kudzu?! A source of smog?! That’s right! Kudzu! Make no mistake.

According to Los Angeles Times correspondent Eryn Brown, back in May 2010, the invasive plant species had spread over more than 7 million acres in area. The whole purpose of introducing the Asian plant into the United States was for erosion control. But, the growth of kudzu was so prolific, Brown noted, that it overtook farmland long since abandoned and virtually anything in its way, and that would include trees and native plant stands.

That being the case, concern over containing the plant’s willy-nilly spread became an area of concentrated focus throughout the region.

Brown also brought to light that not only remarkable was the plant’s ability to spread the way it did, it was also very adept at capturing air-borne nitrogen and then turning around and delivering that element to the soil below.

But, it goes beyond just this. Via a study conducted by Columbia University Earth Institute fellow Jonathan Hickman – and in which the scientist served as the study’s lead researcher – it was discovered that certain crops and plants were ozone purveyors, kudzu included among those. In terms of establishing a link between poor air quality and an invasive species, the study in question was the first of its kind to do so, reported Brown.

It is through emitted gases from the nitrogen-enhanced soils commonly found surrounding kudzu and the reaction of such with volatile organic compounds that the ozone in the air on account of this is formed, this according to Arnold Bloom, a professor of plant sciences at the University of California at Davis who, incidentally, was not involved in any way with the Hickman study research but provided related and relevant comment, as so-cited by Brown, the L.A. Times correspondent, in the article in question.

Image above: Scott Ehardt

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