The Vine that Ate the South

kudzu“I thought the whole world would someday be covered by it, that it would grow as fast as Jack’s beanstalk, and that every person on earth would have to live forever knee-deep in its leaves.”

Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood by Willie Morris

When I first moved south, it was early spring.  The heat and humidity of the summer was just rolling in.  My thick hair was adapting to its new southern shape (think triangular Christmas tree a three year old draws).  Everything was in full bloom. The Redbuds, the Dogwoods, and even the Kudzu.  It was as if Mother Nature had rolled out the red carpet for me.

Kudzu was something I had never encountered before.  A strange vine like plant that seemed to wrap its ventricles around every square inch of this scruffy little county.  An invasive like creature, slowly taking over the entire city.  I was apprehensive, even a little anxious. Would it wrap its leafy fingers around me and swallow me whole (Christmas tree hair and all)?

I have vivid memories of my first summer here.  Of driving past  jungles of Kudzu and seeing what appeared to be entire neighborhoods engulfed in its snake like vines.  Behind the lush, green leaves was really a lurking monster.  When my mom came to visit, she remarked, “It looks like there are homes, and cars, and hidden cities beneath that stuff.  How deep is it?”  It was true; I could see shadowy outlines of whole farms and communities.  Places people had abandoned and let Mother Nature lease.  A type of natural menagerie. It was like the Secret Garden, gone desperately wild.

Kudzu was everywhere.  I’d ask my coworkers about it, and they would just gently nod and acknowledge that it was a permanent resident.  People accepted that this foreign exchange student had come to stay.  No one was trying to get rid of it.  Instead, people let it eat the things they no longer wanted.  At least that is how I made sense of it all.

So, I did my homework.  If I was going to live down here, I needed to have some peace about the plant that had the potential to consume my home.  I was right. The monster is highly aggressive.  Kudzu grows at a rate of one foot per day, and mature vines can be 100 feet long.  And farmers were actually encouraged to plant kudzu between the 1930s-1950s to prevent soil erosion.  Well evidently, this area ran a successful awareness campaign (complete with posters) because more than a few farmers in the county planted and mothered this beast into existence.

I’ve come to accept the kudzu.  I won’t say we are friends, but I no longer fear that I might wake up one day to find that the green monster has made a house call.  The kudzu is an iconic part of the south. She plays a special role in our southern ecosystem.  For this snake like, vine eating monster is actually the queen of hiding things we no longer want to see.

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