Kudzu is a fast growing, woody, somewhat hairy twining perennial vine belonging to the Leguminosae family. It boasts large green leaves with long racemes1 from which beautiful late-blooming reddish purple flowers and flat hairy seed pods can be seen. The flower itself gives off a wondrous grape scent, which can be smelled throughout southern USA when in bloom.
Origins of Kudzu and the Southern US
Kudzu is native to China and Japan where it has been grown for centuries as a delicacy. It was brought to the South of the United States during the 1930s as a carefree ground cover to stop landscape erosion. Farmers in the South were paid $8 an acre to cover their unused fields with it. The one thing they did not know at the time was how pervasive this vine would be. Once brought into the South this plant flourished, as it no longer had any natural enemies. It has now covered a great percentage of the surrounding plant life, fencing, abandoned homes, utility poles and anything else that stands still for too long2. As hard as it is to believe, Kudzu can actually grow a foot a day in every direction.
Kudzu can be destroyed, but until recently only by strong herbicides that would take at least four years, sometimes up to ten, to do so. Another problem is that when these herbicides are used against Kudzu they also attack what the Kudzu is destroying and the inhabitants of the South are wanting to save. It is a Catch-22 situation, either way the surrounding plant life is destroyed. Tuskegee University researchers have discovered that Angora goats can eat Kudzu to a stand-off, but not everybody wants Angora goats grazing in their yards. Just recently scientists have found that Myrothecium Verrucaria, a common fungus, can kill Kudzu within hours without harming surrounding plants. Once destroyed the South would be left with the skeletons of this evasive vine. Another Catch-22 situation; would Southerners rather have the lush green Kudzu covered landscapes or the dead barren landscapes that would be seen once the Kudzu was destroyed?
Practical Uses for Kudzu
When the Southerners realised that they would have to learn to live with this evil weed they started attempting to find practical uses for it. They found that the stems of this vine were quite sturdy and thus made great ropes for use in place of conventionally man made materials. Being crafty, the women of the South took one look at this vine and saw baskets just waiting to be formed. They did however find that once these baskets were made you could not place them anywhere there was an abundance of moisture, such as a bathroom. Just because the vine had been cut did not mean it had quit growing. The Kudzu vine will begin growing again when introduced to moisture of any kind. Children and adults alike have also found many hours of enjoyment in treating the Kudzu as many of us have treated the fluffy white clouds that float by on a sunny day; if you look at the shapes formed by this vine draping over what it has come in contact with you, can see many a wondrous creation; castles, cars, ducks and so on.