The big, mean, menacing things that live in the wilds make the outdoors more interesting for us but rarely downright dangerous. In the outdoors hereabouts we have one of the meanest things going. And it’s a plant for heaven’s sake! It’s kudzu!
The occasional black bear, packs of coyotes and the rare Florida panther provide topics for conversation around the campfires and fireplaces and living rooms in these parts. But neither of these beasts compares with the unrelenting vine from the orient when it comes to assaulting us human beings and much of our environment.
This loathsome legume begins its annual attack in the spring, thrusting its angry tentacles out of a thick mat of roots at the rate of a foot a day, in time reaching a length of 60 feet. The twining vines cover everything in sight. Young trees, born to yield acorns and plums and huckleberries and persimmons are covered by the creeping green devil, shaded to death and then weighted to the ground to become so much humus for the hungry kudzu roots to gobble up.
By the first summer days kudzu has taken on the big boys; tall pines, thriving oaks, virtually any size or species in the area. It may take several seasons, but eventually the kudzu will cover the crown of the tree and shade it to a state of weakness and finally choke it to death.
This is a mean plant, people.
Yes, I know the advantages of this rude intruder. It is often grazed by livestock and deer. And it can provide cover for the ground to the point of stopping erosion of valuable topsoil. But these good points are overwhelmed by its down side. So it saves topsoil. But nothing can make use of the soil it has saved because it lies beneath a tangle of roots that can be over 6 feet thick. It takes serious bulldozer work to clear out the roots of kudzu, and then there is no guarantee that it won’t come back to haunt the land again.
And rabbits and quail that seek shelter in kudzu find crisscrossed roots that they can’t negotiate. How many of these game animals or raccoons or armadillos or possums or foxes have you seen strolling along in a kudzu patch? It can’t be done. An animal that could hang out in a kudzu patch would have to have wheels; great big ones!.
What about the direct attacks on us humans? Here I have exaggerated some around Yankees and other foreigners, but I am not sorry for this sin. I sometimes tell the unknowing that we have to lock our doors in the South because kudzu will grow into our houses and wrap itself around our legs while we lie sleeping or even sometimes when we are seated at the dining table taking on a meal.