Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Kudzu Kingdom

High Summer is the time of year when the humidity becomes so oppressive it hangs over the land like a wet blanket; and the cicadas sing loud and long praising the heat. By August, the heat in southwestern Virginia slows everything down to a crawl, and people languish on their porches after sundown, sipping glasses of ice cold sweet tea. This holding pattern in late summer when the days are long and the heat slows us to a crawl, has no effect on one of southwest Virginia's plants. In fact, Kudzu thrives in the heat and by high summer, it has devoured everything in its path.

Kudzu is a trailing vine native to southern Japan and south east China. Its name comes from the Japanese name for the plant, kuzu (クズ or 葛. Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States at the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Kudzu, also called Japanese arrowroot, is a member of the pea family. It long coiling vines climb and twine itself around plants and trees. Here in southwestern Virginia, it has no natural enemy and grows like a weed killing other plants in its path by covering them and depriving them of sunlight.

It was introduced to this part of the country as a form of erosion control. It is actually good for the soil, supplying nitrogen, and its deep roots also transfer minerals from the subsoil to the topsoil. But what happens when Kudzu devours every tree and shrub in its path? It suffocates the plant by depriving it of sunlight and oxygen effectively killing its host.
Under this tower of Kudzu is the remains of a tree suffocated by Kudzu.
By August, the trees, hillsides, roadsides and creek banks are covered by Kudzu. Every inch of the countryside is a dazzling green landscape.