This post is slightly off-topic, but it’s preservation-related because who among us hasn’t seen an old building in the process of being swallowed by kudzu? A friend sent me this article and I thought it deserved to have a new life in the digital age since it tells the story of kudzu still fairly close to the time it was introduced to the South and therefore, possibly, may be a semi-accurate version of its genesis. As our kudzu sprouts for a new growing season, we have one more thing to blame the highway engineers for.
“Vine from Orient Causing Big Problem in Mississippi”
By Paul and Doris La Cour
Some 25 years ago the highway departments of the Southern states began taking an interest in a strange vine from the Orient. It was not new, since it had first been exhibited in America at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876, but it was new to the South, and it promised great things for a particular need, erosion control. Especially erosion control along the deep cuts then being made for new roads.
This tough creeper seemed to hold all the answers. It grew on poor soil, it sent down deep drouth-licking roots, and it could cover the ground with soil-holding growth in no time. Georgia was one of the first states to try it. And soon there were many tales to tell, tales of a wondrous mantle of green suddenly bursting across ugly red washes–tales of a miracle plant–of a vegetable savior of an eroded land.
The highway people in Mississippi were, in due time, impressed. In the bluff country along the Mississippi river, where the roads take hefty slices out of the hills, there was an enormous washing problem. Especially around the Vicksburg and Natchez area, a region of rich, loam soil, pushed up into steep hills. So, it was to this section that the kudzu eventually made its way.
At first, all went according to plan. The kudzu spread rapidly over the spongy knolls and in a few years there was a cascading fountain of greenery spilling over the ravines and delighting the eye of the traveler and highway engineer alike. There came huzzas for the kudzu.
Time passed. The cheers also passed. For there began to creep with the vine a suspicion and a doubt that the vine did not have erosion-control at heart. There seemed to be no end to the growth, it began to accelerate and accumulate. Faster and faster it spreads. It ran and leaped and climbed; it engulfed living trees, turned abandoned houses into lumps of green growth, spanned country roads and smothered everything before and inexorable wave of vegetable aggression. There came no more applause. In fact, now there came sighs. And curses.
And no one quite knows for certain how to vanquish the vine.
There have been solutions offered. Cows, for instance. Cows love the stuff, but cows can’t fly when the kudzu takes to the trees. True, they could eat it back to the very ground, but the root system is firmly and safely entrenched along the fenced-off right-of-way. There is sometimes talk of poison, too, but as yet the right one hasn’t been offered. Most poisons seem amazingly eager to waft themselves over nearby cotton fields and strike down the cash crop of an already unfriendly farmer. Unfriendly because he must stand guard along his fence and hew back the encroaching vine.
If the battle against the kudzu should be won, there remains the original problem. What’s to stop the erosion?
New Orleans Times Picayune, Sunday morning, October 15, 1961