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Kudzu Quiche A Bonus in Study of Invasive Species

07/23/14 by Rebecca Rider

Kudzu quiche (Photo: Cyndi Allison Wittum)

High School students who chose to study invasive species during their week at the National Environmental Summit at Catawba College probably didn’t think they’d be baking a kudzu quiche. But they did, and they served it, along with other kudzu creations, at the final festival.

Dr. Jay Bolin, assistant professor of biology at Catawba who has been teaching the invasive species focus group since 2011, says the recipes are a fun way to round out the summit. 

The rest of the week the students are in the lab comparing the environmental impacts of the invasive Asiatic clam or the native paper pondshell mussel, or in the Stanback Ecological Preserve on campus collecting creek samples and measuring the daily growth of kudzu. 

Bolin believes the invasive species group is “perfect for the National Environmental Summit” because it focuses on applied conservation. Bolin asks the students in his group to consider what a non-native species could contribute to an ecosystem. For example, Asiatic clams are better at filtering water than native clams—but they also produce more nitrates. And in the 1930’s, the Soil Conservation Service encouraged farmers to plant kudzu to reduce erosion, which the plant does well. 

Bolin wants the students in his focus group to grasp this because invasive species are a lot more common than many people think. Many people have grown up with invasive species, such as Japanese honeysuckle and Mimosa trees, without realizing they weren’t native to the area. This impacts conservation, Bolin says, because there are too many invasive species—many of them now firmly rooted in local ecosystems—and too little money for conservation agencies to control all of them.  

Dr. Jay Bolin teaches students at the National Environmental
Summit about the invasive Asiatic clam in the Stanback Ecological
Preserve on the Catawba College campus. (photo: Eli Wittum)

It’s only when a species is new to an ecosystem, invades a preserved wilderness or causes extreme negative impacts that agencies take steps to control it.  Aside from that, Bolin says, many invasive species thrive unnoticed in human-disturbed areas such as roadsides or the edges of parking lots. The point Bolin hopes to drive home is that, ultimately, it’s not a black-and-white issue. 

The summit festival, which allowed students to demonstrate what they had learned during the week, gave the invasive species focus group an opportunity to share fried kudzu and kudzu tea as well as kudzu quiche. “Students swarmed the kudzu table to get samples,” saidCyndi Allison Wittum, lecturer in communication arts who taught the summit focus group called Green Inc: Blogging for a Better Tomorrow. “A few hesitated until they saw how fellow campers responded.”

Wittum proclaimed the kudzu quiche a winner. “It was hard to nail the secret ingredient. A good guess could have been mild spinach. But, no, the green leaves were kudzu. And they were truly delicious.”

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