“Plants do not have the power of locomotion — except perhaps for kudzu.”
MIDWAY, Fla. — I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.
In 1876, a fast-growing vine from Japan made its first appearance in the United States at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, the first official U.S. world’s fair to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The plant, known to botanists as Pueraria lobata and to the rest of us as kudzu, is a climbing, coiling vine native to southern Japan and southeast China. It was promoted at the fair as a forage crop and an ornamental plant.
Our cross-country bicycle route is taking us through kudzu country — from East Texas and now into the Florida Panhandle. So far, we’ve seen only minor growths of kudzu — climbing up light standards or obscuring road signs.
I haven’t traveled much in the Deep South. So the ubiquity of kudzu was a revelation to me when my wife and I drove from Fort Worth several years ago to Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., via Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The stuff was everywhere, climbing and enveloping utility poles, abandoned houses, junk cars. A structure overtaken by kudzu is reminiscent of a Mayan temple reclaimed by the jungle.
The U.S. Soil Conservation Service — established in 1935 when severe drought was turning the topsoil of the Great Plains to dust and the wind was blowing it hither and yon — encouraged farmers in the southeastern United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion. The practice continued into the early 1950s.
Now kudzu is an ever-expanding green monster that defies eradication.