September 2007

Kudzu: Curse of the South

Author: Tom Wharton

There are many ways to determine if you are in the South. There is the non-visible Mason-Dixon Line. People start saying “ya’ll” instead of “you guys” or “yous,” and IHOPs start to become Waffle Houses. But one of the more dramatic signs that you have crossed the line is the overgrowth of a little green menace known as kudzu. Pueraria lobata (its scientific name) was brought to the South from Japan by the federal government as a way to prevent soil erosion. It’s a vine plant with leaves that can range in size from a pea to a basketball. It did not take long for kudzu to spread. The South was the perfect place for kudzu—long, hot, humid summers with frequent rainfall and very few hard freezes. It quickly went from a fix-it-all for erosion to a scourge.

I recently undertook the absurd task of controlling the little green monster at one of my many jobs. I have rolled over it with a lawn mower. I have come at it with a flurry of hedge trimmers. I have dumped gallons of herbicide on it. I love to watch those giant green leaves turn yellow and then brown. Dead kudzu brings a wide smile to my sweaty, exhausted face. But what truly is my progress? About 20 yards of roughly three and a half acres have died. But wait, once that kudzu has died, the fellow kudzu vines crawl over the top of the dead vines. In a staunchly cannibalistic way, the kudzu keeps on growing.

I researched different ways to end this plague. The best way to control kudzu? Goats. Goats can clear acres of kudzu in days. And when the kudzu grows back, they’ll do it again. Upon further research, I found that the goats cost over $1000. My supervisor would not approve that for our budget and also thought my suburban upbringing did not prepare me to become an impromptu goat herder.

Kudzu covers all. If a car is left unattended in the land of kudzu for more than a couple of days, then the kudzu will overpower it. It can cover a Honda Civic in a day. This is nature showing humankind who is boss.

Many days, I’ll just stand on a hill overlooking kudzu country. The plant truly baffles me. Kudzu is clever. When a breeze blows, the white underbelly of the leaves flutters. From a distance it looks like a green ocean rising and falling. Occasionally, when I am trimming it back, I come across a kudzu flower. It’s a tiny bushel of violet thistles that hang from the end of one of the accursed vines. I view it as kudzu’s way of saying, “Hey Bud, no hard feelings.”

But, I do have hard feelings. I long for the summer to end. I wait for the first freeze warning of the late fall and early winter. I pine for the shortened days and sweatshirts. For those will be the days that the green menace falls back. The chill of seasonal change turns kudzu brown and returns the land back to us.

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