Southern California native Gary Pfalzbot had never heard of kudzu.
So when he bought a house in southwest Missouri four winters ago, he thought nothing of the brown vines crisscrossing adjacent land.
"In about a month, that stuff blossomed into a great, big, green mass of tangled green vines like a nightmare that's come alive," said Pfalzbot, 41.
The plant engulfed his fences, his trees and threatened his house. The guitar player reluctantly became a rancher, employing 35 goats on his nine acres in Highlandville to eat the kudzu's leaves.
Pfalzbot believes his problem centers on his neighbor's land, where he says the plant grow uninhibited and creeps over to his plot.
He hopes a new law signed Tuesday by Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell will force the neighbors, who were unavailable for comment Tuesday, to fight the vine's aggressive growth.
The new law declares kudzu, cut-leaved teasel and common teasel to be noxious weeds. It makes it the "duty" of all Missourians, governmental agencies and transportation companies to control the plants' spread and to eradicate the two teasels.
Eradication is not required for kudzu because a lobbyist for railroad companies complained to lawmakers that kudzu was impossible to completely remove.
By "duty," the law means that you have to at least try to control or eradicate the weeds, said Joe Francka, director of the Department of Agriculture's division of plant industries. Those who don't try, Francka said, could face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
Kudzu was brought to the United States from China in the 19th century.
The plant can grow as much as a foot a day and has blanketed much of the nation's South -- including barns, telephone poles and trees -- with its dense foliage and sturdy, thick vines.
House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, co-sponsored the measure during the legislative session that ended in May. Kreider said the law, which takes effect on Aug. 28, is one of the most important tourism bills passed in years.
"The reason people come to southwest Missouri and Branson are the trees and the mountains," he said. "Kudzu will kill every tree on those hills. It is a much more serious problem than most people realize."
Kudzu can completely block sunlight from getting to trees and other plants. Its roots, which can reach almost 10 feet into the ground, can also rob other plants of water.
Common and cut-leaved teasel are members of the thistle family that also aggressively push out other plants. Tall and prickly, the plants have purple or white flowers and are harmful to the state's biodiversity, said Department of Conservation spokesman Jim Low.
Maxwell signed the law this morning while Gov. Bob Holden was in Arkansas attending a regional governor's conference. Holden returned to the state for another spate of bill signings in Kansas City later Tuesday.
"The governor and I reached an agreement early in the process about how I would handle the signing of bills and other duties in his absence, and this is part of that process," Maxwell said.
Pamela Pfalzbot, Gary's wife, said the law isn't as tough as she'd like. She'd prefer it to spell out their right to sue their neighbor.
But there are no plans for a lawsuit anyway.
"We don't have money to hire a lawyer," she said. "We put it all toward the goats. Everything we take in goes to the animals."
"The thing we hope will come out of all this is that people will realize how devastating (kudzu) can be and won't plant it," she said.