Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Hill Farm Research Station, Homer, Louisiana 71040, USA
Warm-season perennial legumes, as a plant functional group, hold considerable promise for use as forage plants in the warm, humid southeastern U.S., where infertile soils and low-protein forage grasses are common. This plant group is large with tremendous ranges in growth forms and propagation methods. Despite the overall promise, only a few species have been, are currently, or even appear to be potentially useful forage plants. The few species of this group which are widely adapted across the Southeast are also considered, at least by some, to be invasive. Included are a vine (kudzu, Pueraria montana var. lobata), a tree (mimosa, Albizia julibrissin), and a herb (sericea lespedeza, Lespedeza cuneata). Rather casual observation can quickly provide evidence of the invasiveness of kudzu. Determination of the invasiveness of sericea lespedeza depends to some extent on the evidence assessed. With mimosa, the question may be about forage value rather than invasiveness. Most of the seemingly unstoppable spread of kudzu is from rapid vegetative extension, while seed provide the means for increase in range of the other two. Simple single-application treatments of various defoliation procedures or even the most effective herbicide have either had minimal or rather temporary effects on kudzu and sericea lespedeza. Long-term strategies, rather than single control treatments, are required for success. Knowledge of basic mechanisms of plant dispersal and ecosystem susceptibility to invasion by sericea lespedeza are needed to allow appropriate decisions about control and prevention of problem populations of this species. Developing technology holds promise for future use of mimosa as an intensively managed forage legume despite invasiveness. The greatest potential forage use of introduced, perennial, warm-season legumes in the southeastern U.S. in general may well be through the use of grazing livestock as part of carefully planned control strategies.
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