Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kudzu: The Amazing Vine That Ate the South

"Cotton isn't king in the South anymore.
Kudzu is king!"
Channing Cope

In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows
At night to keep it out of the house.
The glass is tinged with green, even so...
From the poem, "Kudzu,"
by James Dickey 

Photo Credit: Jack Anthony
Read more about kudzu at at Anthony's web page here 

I have planned for some time to write a blog about Kudzu, that noxious weed that grows so rampantly throughout the Southeastern United States, where hot summers provide ideal growing conditions.

It climbs over trees and shrubs, utility poles, abandoned buildings and sometimes creates an eerie fantasy by growing into shapes which look like familiar animals and objects.

This fast-growing plan covers and kills any competing vegetation over a period of several years by blocking the sunlight.

Kudzu was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Countries were invited to build exhibits to celebrate the 100th birthday of the U.S. The Japanese government constructed a beautiful garden filled with plants from their country. The large leaves and sweet-smelling blooms of kudzu captured the imagination of American gardeners who used the plant for ornamental purposes.

The following is from Max Shores, a University of Alabama filmmaker, who produced a film, The Amazing Story of Kudzu, for public television:

"Florida nursery operators, Charles and Lillie Pleas, discovered that animals would eat the plant and promoted its use for forage in the 1920s. Their Glen Arden Nursery in Chipley sold kudzu plants through the mail. A historical marker there proudly proclaims "Kudzu Developed Here."

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young men were given work planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps. Farmers were paid as much as eight dollars an acre as incentive to plant fields of the vines in the 1940s.

Kudzu's most vocal advocate was Channing Cope of Covington, Georgia who promoted use of the vine to control erosion. Cope wrote about kudzu in articles for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and talked about its virtues frequently on his daily WSB-AM radio program broadcast from his front porch. During the 1940s, he traveled across the southeast starting Kudzu Clubs to honor what he called "the miracle vine."

Cope was very disappointed when the U.S. government stopped advocating the use of kudzu in 1953. 

It is said that Kudzu grows 12 inches each day on a hot summer day, sixty feet each year. Science Daily reports that it spreads at the rate of 150,000 acres annually. It now covers more than seven million acres of the deep South.

It is mostly seen around riverbanks, in wooded areas around streams and areas not under cultivation.

Today I shot a few of my own photographs around Elk River, not very far from where I live:

There are many commercial uses for Kudzu, including medicine, food, animal feed, health tonics, basket making, clothing and paper.

Photo Credit:  Max Shores
Ruth Duncan of Greenville, Ala., makes more than 200 kudzu baskets each year and says she doesn't mind that people call her the "Queen of Kudzu."
If anyone out there is interested in commercially developing a product made from Kudzu, come on down South; we have lots and will willingly provide you with an ample supply. Just be careful and don't stand in one place too long or it may grow right over you!


  1. Although it looks so lush and pretty at a distance, I hope it never gets close to my place. At the rate it grows, which I wasn't aware of, it would be another problem to fight along with all these rocks here! Great photos - I can tell exactly where they were taken.

    1. It IS pretty! But you're right; another thing for a gardener to worry about. Yes, we pass by this kudza many times, don't we?

  2. Oh my,please don't sit too long in your garden.
    Wonder if that is what that film 'Day of the Triffids' was based on?

    Sanda hope you don't mind me going off subject?

    We are keenly (especially HB) interested in the ...hopefully...landing of the 'Curiosity' Mars rover,due to land on 6th August (6.31 am.GMT) controlled from Pasadena.
    Expect you will be following it with great interest also? Ida

    1. Heh-heh. Fortunately, the weed killer Roundup kills kudzu. We have never had a problem with it.
      I am not familiar with the film you mention. Sounds like one I will check out!
      Perfectly fine re Curiosity landing. As far as I can determine, the landing is still on schedule for Aug. 6. For the very latest status, use the following NASA web site:

      There is a ton of information there, plus you can log in and watch NASA TV during landing.

    2. Thank you for the link,HB also sends his thanks he has already had a quick browse.Ida

  3. Wow! Talk about an invasive plant. I've heard of it or read of it, fun to see your pictures. I wonder how it is used in Japan and if it is less invasive in their climate.


    1. That is a very good question, Darla. I don't know, but my best guess is that it is not as invasive in Japan, as I don't think they have the very hot summers there that are so conducive to kudzu's growth here. That is something I shall do a bit of research on. Thanks for bringing that up!

  4. Yup...I have seen it and can testify. When I lived in Knoxville, TN, the kudzu covered the skies, it would climb from one end of the narrow winding roads across to the other side, it was suffocating. I used to think that one would never be without gardening work. Someone I knew from the college made his living just cutting plants that grew so fast. It is pretty remarkable....have a good day dear Sanda.

    1. Ohhhh, you know exactly what I'm talking about, then! It is a pretty amazing plant. Pretty, but "deadly." How did you like living in Knoxville? Are you a California native?

  5. At least this plant has some uses, but it must be a worry that it will destroy other species if left unchallenged. In Australia we have many introduced flora and fauna which have turned out to be dreadful pests and subject to eradication plans. Rabbits were one; they denuded vast areas of farming land. An interesting post, Sanda, and I have never heard of kudzu. Have a nice week.

    1. Hi Patricia,
      Yes, it does seem that kudzu offers commercial potential. It is really bad, though, when a plant native to one area is introduced into another and becomes an invasive pest. Rabbits are my current nemesis, as they have eaten my vegetable garden this year. Yet, I am sad when my doggies catch and kill one. Go figure! You have a great week as well. Are your grandchildren still with you for the visit?


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