Tuesday, August 18, 2015

a mile a minute?

Often called the “vine that ate the South,” Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is actually native to Japan. There it's call kuzu. In China, the fast-grower is called gé gēn. It's also widely eaten — roots, leaves, flowers — throughout both countries, so its zealous nature isn't a problem in that part of the world, it's a bonanza, a boon for anyone feeling a bit peckish. The more it grows, the bigger the buffet.

The ambitious plant was first introduced into this country in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. The fast, fast growing vine was promoted as a forage crop for livestock and an ornamental plant like wisteria for arbors. And it did just fine in controlled settings. Back when Atticus was every one's hero, Harper Lee mentions kudzu growing on an arbor in her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

But, as we all know, kudzu's story didn’t end there. Neither did Atticus'. (Or is it Atticus's?)

The Soil Conservation Service encouraged farmers to plant kudzu to control soil erosion. And they did just that from 1935 to the early 1950s. By the time everyone realized that kudzu was taken over vast stretches of southern countryside, roadside, hillside, wayside, dare I say, committing botanical genocide, it was too late.

Despite this government-sanctioned misstep — and it’s really our fault, not the plant’s — kudzu does produce a rather lovely flower. It’s currently in bloom, vast, vast, vast stretches of it, in a field somewhere near you. And instead of eating it, we curse it. 

And so it goes. (Forgive me Linda Ellerbee.)

No comments: