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.
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.)