PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WHTM) – Kudzu is the poster child for invasive species and the threat that they pose.
The creeping and climbing Pueraria montana can be seen covering abandoned homes and businesses, wrapping around light poles and covering entire fields and trees in the southern part of the United States.
The troublesome vine that “ate the south” was first introduced to America through the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia from a demonstration garden by the Japanese government.
The weed wasn’t accepted right away however because many farmers saw no benefit in kudzu.
The first people to really believe there was positive potential behind kudzu were Charles and Lillie Pleas, farmers from Chipley, Florida. They thought it would be great as food for farm animals and began promoting kudzu for that purpose in the 1920s. They began selling Kudzu via the mail and spreading the seeds far and wide.
Flash forward 59 years from the World’s Fair to 1935 and Kudzu was seen as a saving grace for the southern land which was suffering from soil erosion due to dust-storm-battered prairies. Congress had over 70 million Kudzu seeds planted in nurseries and offered $8 per acre to farmers who planted the weed.
There was even a Kudzu Club of America that boasted 20,000 members and vowed to plant eight million acres of kudzu in the southern United States. Channing Cope, who was a radio host, started the club. Cope was a huge advocate of Kudzu and helped to spread the word about the “miracle vine“.
However, the dream of a brighter future quickly turned into darkness as kudzu began clouding the rays of hope.
Kudzu grew like the weed that it was and began covering the south, intertwining itself with the land and the culture. Its tendrils encircled tightly around the world below the Mason-Dixon line.
It wound its way into art due to its impact on southerners, including into a famous poem by James Dickey entitled “Kudzu” which shows how kudzu quickly turned into a menace.
An example of the relationship that developed with kudzu is exemplified in stanza four, lines 1-3: “As the tendrils crawl over the fields the night the kudzu has your pasture . . .”.
The government realized its mistakes, too late, and the USDA declared kudzu to be a weed in 1972, but the damage was done. By 1946, already about 3 million acres of Kudzu had been planted. Kudzu had taken root and was here to stay.
Kudzu’s sad story is an extreme, but possible, example of what can happen when invasive plant species are introduced. That is why experts suggest purchasing plants from local nurseries because they are directly from the area they are sold in, whereas big companies important plants from everywhere.
These plants that are shipped in, possibly from other countries, could contain hidden invasive bugs or are infected with a disease that will harm plants already in the area.
The dangers associated with invasive plants also make the case for native plants. Besides the many inherent benefits of native plants, they will not cause a case to occur such as what happened with kudzu.
Kudzu is a daily, physical reminder that everyone should plant consciously.