One non-native species is removing another from the Maryville College Woods, one bite at a time, with Nigerian Dwarf goats grazing on kudzu.
The vine began appearing on the edge of the 140-acre forest about eight years ago, according to biology professor Drew Crain, a member of the group that manages the woods. An animal such as a raccoon likely ate one of the legumes from the plant in another area and deposited the seed in scat.
This month the college brought in Knox Goats, an “alternative landscaping business” as an environmentally friendly method to take out the kudzu.
With a Great Pyrenees guard dog named Casper protecting the goats, they’ll munch the plants from within an electric fence, which will be moved over time to clear 3.7 acres.
“This will be the first of many grazings,” Crain said. The team from Knox Goats will be back later this year, at least twice next year and at least once the following year to thoroughly remove the fast-growing plants.
Owner Keith Bridges started in the business four years ago and now has 140 goats, with plans to add 60 more this year.
In addition to kudzu, the goats will eat privet, honeysuckle, blackberries, briers, poison ivy, poison oak — just about anything but mountain laurel and rhododendron, Bridges said. He’s seen them make visible cars and tractors in fields that were covered by vegetation.
“Goats are great at getting the places you don’t want to spray or can’t get equipment,” he said.
“It’s really the only strategy that we’re comfortable with,” Crain said.
Kudzu grows so fast that Bridges sometimes has to remove it by hand from the fencing.
“It’s the ultimate invasive,” Crain said, because it thrives in the summer sun, doesn’t need much water and fixes its own nitrogen. As it climbs trees, the kudzu damages limbs and outcompetes the native plants that benefit wildlife, such as the Virginia creeper, flowering dogwood and redbuds, he explained.
Sometimes called “the vine that ate the South,” kudzu is originally from Asia, but groups such as the Civilian Conservation Corps planted it in the 1930s to prevent soil erosion.
Kudzu isn’t the only non-native invasive plant being removed under a long-term management plan for the woods, which was farmland and pasture before the private college acquired it in 1881.
President Thomas Jefferson Lamar, then the college president, bought the land for $21 an acre and sold it to his school for $1.
In 2013, the college began applying a herbicide to English ivy in the woods, except an area leased to RT Lodge. Because it affects only the leaves, the spraying is done in February, before other plants emerge. “It has been amazing,” Crain said of the technique, first tested by a graduate student from the University of Tennessee.
The source of the English ivy can be traced to three spots, according to Crain. Two were homes, the House in the Woods and Morningside, the home that evolved into RT Lodge. The third is an area where the ivy removed from Anderson Hall in the 1960s was dumped in the woods.
Removing the ivy has made way for native wildflowers such as trillium and mayapple in the Maryville College Woods.
Chinese privet originally was planted near the amphitheater in the woods in the 1930s as part of a 6-acre arboretum. In recent years, students and volunteers have been removing privet and bush honeysuckle by hand.
“We top them off, and then we take the root with a lever-based tool,” Crain explained.
Privet dries up the water table, and removing it has led to the discovery of a wetland area. This summer, Crain said, two species never recorded before in the Maryville College Woods have been spotted: green frogs and the spring salamander.
He also introduced wood frogs, which a friend found as tadpoles in a Blount County swimming pool this spring.
“We are managing the Woods to restore them to what they should be,” Crain said.