Beware the remorseless vine that ate the South


Among that which marks the onset of spring in the South is the arrival of wisteria and kudzu. The first is an attractive flowering plant that is in bloom just a short time, while the latter is an unattractive weed that pretty much takes over everything and anything in its path.

Both are vines, but kudzu has become a symbol of the South, given its propensity to engulf stands of trees, signage, telephone poles, abandoned vehicles, homes, barns, loitering youth, etc.

Native to Asia, kudzu was introduced to the US as an ornamental bush at the Philadelphia Continental Exposition in 1876. During the Great Depression, it was “rebranded” as a means for farmers to stop soil erosion.

Close-up of kudzu in Beaufort, SC. Photo by CJ Dietrich, aka Cotton Boll Jr.

Close-up of kudzu in Beaufort, SC. Photo by CJ Dietrich, aka Cotton Boll Jr.

Southern farmers were given about $8 dollars an acre to sow topsoil with the vine and more than 1 million acres of kudzu were planted. As a result, millions of acres of land in the South and beyond are today covered with the invasive vine.

Kudzu isn’t all bad; it adds nitrogen to the soil and can be eaten by grazing animals such as sheep and goats. The vine also has medicinal uses.

However, it competes with native species and tends to take over land, blocking out competitors.

Today, not even 150 years after its introduction to the US, kudzu is as much a staple of the Southern US as swamps, slash pine and seersucker suits.

(Top: Kudzu evident in rural area, with small cabin in middle completely overgrown.)

18 thoughts on “Beware the remorseless vine that ate the South

  1. Although it is invasive, I like to see it covering things. Adds to the South’s mystique. My mom told me that when it flowers the blooms smell like grape juice.

    • It certainly is indicative of the rural South. I will have to keep an eye for blossoming kudzu. All I ever seem to find are the leaves, wending their way up poles, across old homes or inside abandoned cars.

  2. My turn to look something up and, having done so, find that I need this plant in order to save taxes.

    My house tax is based on a Google view from which the council deduce the square metrage of the roof and tax accordingly.
    If I plant this around the house the roof will disappear – no tax – and I could probably apply for a grant for reforestation too…

  3. I really like how your blog is so differently set out, it really stands out among the blogs i have come across, being new here and trying to learn from others i have definitely have some benefit by passing by and staying tuned for more from you. Would you mind passing by to my blog? 🙂

      • We could also develop a market for rat snakes. Ever since I exported mine (who was eating my chickens’ eggs), I’ve had a major problem with mice. Rat snakes are non-poisonous and can go anywhere the mice go, like inside walls. If you have egg-laying chickens, I’m told you can mount the nesting boxes in cans of cooking grease like pork fat to prevent the snakes from getting to the eggs.

      • I haven’t tried the cooking grease experiment myself, only heard about it. I’ve also heard hanging banana stalks in the chicken coop prevents mites. I have tried this but couldn’t tell if it did any good.

        It does seem we are losing a lot of folk wisdom in an era of patented poisons. I hate to see it go.

      • Aptly named Nancy Basket makes beautiful baskets, indeed with elements coming from kudzu. Robert Clark and I featured her and her work in Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. 2, USC Press 2015.

  4. I have seen this as I drove with a friend through the south on a Civil War tour from Atlanta to Delaware. My friend pointed it out and said that his father-in-law called it shitsu because he could never remember its name. Because of that I always have trouble remembering its name unless I read about it, but how often do people write about it? I love the picture. Wow! 🙂 Hope you had a Happy Easter.

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