By Otha Barham / Outdoors Editor
Otha Barham ©
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.
Why am I not repentant for this low blow on kudzu? Because it is getting its comeuppance, that’s why. How many of us take a lunch break in a kudzu patch when we are out hiking or hunting? You not only can’t lunch there, you can’t stalk game there, you can’t run there, you can’t see far there. In short kudzu takes exclusive control of the land it grows on.
If we are out walking through the woods and come upon a patch of kudzu, we must alter our line of travel. How many folks walk straight through a patch of the tangled mess? No. We walk a quarter mile out of our way just to accommodate this disrespectful plant. It takes up our space and inconveniences us everywhere it grows.
Facing a bear or an angry cougar with a gun, one has a chance to come out of the scrap in good health. But try to use your rifle or shotgun or sidearm on kudzu. Shoot the whole magazine load and all the kudzu will suffer is a few drooped leaves!
You can catch a bear or panther in a trap, but trapping kudzu? Ha!.
If you are searching for the mean things in the woods, kudzu has to be at the top of the list.
I must shut off the computer now, and close this column at this point. My front door is open and I feel something winding around my leg!