Helium Makes Kudzu Float Away

As promised — some happy news:  There’s this kid in Valdosta, GA (close to Tifton where I spent a few years as a graduate assistant), who has been experimenting with ways to kill kudzu.  Here’s the video.

To see this kid work on something like this at such a young age is fantastic and gives me hope for the future.  I wish the kid were here so he could come to the University of Minnesota – I think he has a lot to offer and he makes me slightly more optimistic about where horticulture ends up.

For those of you who choose not to view the video, what this kid does is to inject helium into the soil around the root system of a kudzu plant.  After the injection the plant apparently dies.  The exact reason why isn’t known, but one person who was interviewed said he suspected that the helium smothers the plants roots thus killing it.

I’m a little bit suspicious about that explanation, and I’m also a little bit skeptical about how much more economically feasible it would be to use the helium instead of more standard herbicides.  I’m also very interested in any other gasses that he might have tried to kill the kudzu – I wonder, for example, if he tried propane?  It might work, but I’d say it was too dangerous to try.

I’m suspicious about the helium smothering the root system of kudzu because kudzu has such an extensive root system and because the helium should dissipate pretty quickly, especially in sandy soils like they have in Southern Georgia.   It’s also very unlikely that the helium itself is acting as a poison because helium is an inert gas.  It just doesn’t react with anything.  What I think is more likely is that, by finding the site where the kudzu’s stem enters the ground, this kid has found a “weak spot” on the kudzu which is susceptible to damage.  Then I think that the helium acts a refrigerant when it is released and actually freezes the stem of the kudzu.  However it works though, it’s a neat trick!

5 thoughts on “Helium Makes Kudzu Float Away”

  1. Jeff – There’s a better explanation of his scientific process in the article from his local newspaper: http://valdostadailytimes.com/local/x1414113336/An-Ivy-League-of-His-Own

    I don’t know if it reacts with something — or if it blocks a reaction somehow. I’m not a horticulturist or a scientist, so I’m not sure how the process could work, but apparently he’s worked out some sort of explanation. He’s apparently had some successes and some failures in the field, though.

  2. Interesting, but far from a solution considering Helium is a dwindling resource – http://goo.gl/ssUYC

    Hopefully some other substances work, since Helium is more valuable for other applications such as medical research, for example.

  3. The weed scientist mentioned, Stephen Enloe, is an Auburn Univ. professor and frequent guest on my podcast Backyard Wisd
    om. I hope to have him on soon to talk about this.

  4. I would be interested in the long term effect. Having applied herbicides to eradicate Kudzu on my land I know that it comes back in a few years. Apparently, the young man has been working on this long enough to know if the first areas he treated have shown any re-emergence.

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