Its growth is not “sinister,” as Willie Morris, the influential editor of Harper’s Magazine, described in his many stories and memoirs about life in Yazoo City, Mississippi. By 1945, only a little more than a million acres had been planted, and much of it was quickly grazed out or plowed under after federal payments stopped. In its native environment, kudzu is kept in check by insects that eat the vines. It appeared not to stop because there were no grazers to eat it back. It has been used in Chinese medicine since at least 200 BC. But it spread quickly and overtook farms and buildings, leading some to call to kudzu "the vine that ate the South." Anti-Inflammatory & Antioxidant. Here's what the research says so far about kudzu health … As trees grew in the cleared lands near roadsides, kudzu rose with them. Kudzu is a fast-growing vine native to the subtropical regions of China and Japan, as well as some other Pacific islands.1, 2 The plant consists of leaves (containing 3 broad oval leaflets), purple flowers, and curling tendril spikes.3, 4 Because the stem grows up to 20 m in length and due to its extensive root system, kudzu has been used to control soil erosion. Get the best of Smithsonian magazine by email. Add ... 2. Kudzu is an invasive plant species in the United States.Its introduction has produced devastating environmental consequences. Maybe we could eat the plant that ate the south. The quality of the leaves decreases as … More than 70 million kudzu seedlings were grown in nurseries by the newly created Soil Conservation Service. As a young naturalist growing up in the Deep South, I feared kudzu. It is high in nitrogen and actually replaces nitrogen in the soil. It eats kudzu–joy of joys–but that’s not all it eats. Introduced from Asia in the late 19th century as a garden novelty, but not widely planted until the 1930s, kudzu is now America’s most infamous weed. Flowers can … No one is sure where it came from. Weird & Wacky, Copyright © 2020 HowStuffWorks, a division of InfoSpace Holdings, LLC, a System1 Company. What do kudzu bugs eat? That’s about one-tenth of 1 percent of the South’s 200 million acres of forest. A writer for Deep South Magazine recently gushed that kudzu is “the ultimate icon for the amazing metaphor for just about every issue you can imagine within Southern Studies.” One blogger, surveying the kudzu-littered literature of the modern South, dryly commented that all you have to do to become a Southern novelist is “throw in a few references to sweet tea and kudzu.”. The invasive, green weed clings to dilapidated barns, climbs trees, spreads across fields and seems to eat almost everything in its path, right up to the side of the freeway. by Grandpa Cliff Nov 10, 2005 (revised Jan 3, 2006) []Kudzu flowers (Pueraria montana) KUDZU (CUD-zoo) is a drought-resistant perennial plant that was brought to the U.S. from Asia in 1876 to be used as an ornamental plant and grown in fields for grazing cattle to eat. Learn how to identify kudzu and other invasive plants. What You Can Do. We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. I believed, as many still do, that kudzu had eaten much of the South and would soon sink its teeth into the rest of the nation. The leaves can be boiled, deep fried, or eaten raw in a salad. If you live in the southern United States, you know kudzu. By way of comparison, the same report estimates that Asian privet had invaded some 3.2 million acres—14 times kudzu’s territory. Tennessee, Alabama and northern Georgia (often considered centers of the kudzu invasion) and the Florida Panhandle are among the areas that the authors argue should be prioritized. But, in fact, it rarely penetrates deeply into a forest; it climbs well only in sunny areas on the forest edge and suffers in shade. However, these insects were not imported to the U.S. along with the vines. But for others, kudzu was a vine with a story to tell, symbolic of a strange hopelessness that had crept across the landscape, a lush and intemperate tangle the South would never escape. And we've heard the blossoms aren't bad in jelly, candy or syrups. Kudzu leaves, flowers and roots can be eaten. Kudzu's root, flower, and leaf are used to make medicine. But scientists reassessing kudzu’s spread have found that it’s nothing like that. Kudzu has a big reputation, but how much do you really know about it? So far, scientific support for the benefits of kudzu is limited. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners who may combine it with other information that you’ve provided to them or that they’ve collected from your use of their services. Still, along Southern roads, the blankets of untouched kudzu create famous spectacles. Other plants that kudzu bugs are known to eat: White sweet clover Pigeon pea Black eye pea Perennial peanut American joint vetch White clover Alfalfa White clover Pinto bean Soybean Red clover Lima bean Wisteria Kudzu plants (of course) Other legumes Making kudzu edible may be a way to demythologize and destigmatize the plant. You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website. The myth of kudzu has indeed swallowed the South, but the actual vine’s grip is far more tenuous. Kudzu does not just attack wild plant communities -- kudzu has wreaked havoc on farmlands, destroying entire fields of crops. Most of the kudzu plant is edible except for the actual vine itself. Kudzu has traditionally served as … In 2009, what’s been dubbed the kudzu bug was identified in the South, a brand new invader from Asia. This could become our revenge. In places where it was once relatively easy to get a photograph of kudzu, the bug-infested vines are so crippled they can’t keep up with the other roadside weeds. Look for a kudzu plant that is not near a highway where it will be contaminated by dust and automobile exhaust fumes. The official hype has also led to various other questionable claims—that kudzu could be a valuable source of biofuel and that it has contributed substantially to ozone pollution. Make a kudzu quiche. In the end, kudzu may prove to be among the least appropriate symbols of the Southern landscape and the planet’s future. You can eat it too. In a 1973 article about Mississippi, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, wrote that “racism is like that local creeping kudzu vine that swallows whole forests and abandoned houses; if you don’t keep pulling up the roots it will grow back faster than you can destroy it.” The photographs of kudzu-smothered cars and houses that show up repeatedly in documentaries of Southern life evoke intractable poverty and defeat. Give them a quick wash with cold water and then transfer them to a bowl. In alternative medicine, kudzu is typically used for the following conditions: 1. alcoholism 2. menopausal symptoms 3. diabetes 4. common cold 5. fever Not all of these uses are supported by clinical evidence. In the latest careful sampling, the U.S. Forest Service reports that kudzu occupies, to some degree, about 227,000 acres of forestland, an area about the size of a small county and about one-sixth the size of Atlanta. For many, the vivid depictions of kudzu had simply become the defining imagery of the landscape, just as palms might represent Florida or cactus Arizona. It has been spreading rapidly in the southern U.S., "easily outpacing the use of herbicide spraying and mowing, as well increasing the costs of these controls by $6 million annually". Unfortunately they also feed on other plants, including crops such as soybeans, which results in them being considered an agricultural pest. Our obsession with the vine hides the South. Terms of Use Bill Finch is the lead horticulture and science advisor to the Mobile Botanical Gardens in Alabama. Shoots can be eaten like asparagus. By the early 1940s, Cope had started the Kudzu Club of America, with a membership of 20,000 and a goal of planting eight million acres across the South. Though fascinated by the grape-scented flowers and the purple honey produced by visiting bees, I trembled at the monstrous green forms climbing telephone poles and trees on the edges of our roads and towns. For the generations of writers who followed, many no longer intimately connected to the land, kudzu served as a shorthand for describing the Southern landscape and experience, a ready way of identifying the place, the writer, the effort as genuinely Southern. Conservation biologists are taking a closer look at the natural riches of the Southeastern United States, and they describe it as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, in many ways on par with tropical forests. The University of Tennessee Knoxville landscaping services rented goats to come and eat away at kudzu on a one acre piece of land right next to the … The kudzu plant produces fragrant blossoms which you can make into jelly, syrup and candy. And because it looked as if it covered everything in sight, few people realized that the vine often fizzled out just behind that roadside screen of green. Now there’s a cottage industry of kudzu-branded literary reviews and literary festivals, memoirs, cartoon strips and events. Kudzu: A Southern Musical toured the country. Kudzu hay typically has a 22-23% crude protein content and over 60% total digestible nutrient value. Kudzu definition at, a free online dictionary with pronunciation, synonyms and translation. |. Perhaps it was while I watched horses and cows mowing fields of kudzu down to brown stubs. Kudzu might have forever remained an obscure front porch ornament had it not been given a boost by one of the most aggressive marketing campaigns in U.S. history. Place four cups of Kudzu blossoms in a colander. I found it odd that kudzu had become a global symbol for the dangers of invasive species, yet somehow rarely posed a serious threat to the rich Southern landscapes I was trying to protect as a conservationist. To overcome the lingering suspicions of farmers, the service offered as much as $8 per acre to anyone willing to plant the vine. The miraculous vine that might have saved the South had become, in the eyes of many, a notorious vine bound to consume it. As a botanist and horticulturist, I couldn’t help but wonder why people thought kudzu was a unique threat when so many other vines grow just as fast in the warm, wet climate of the South. An endless procession of “kudzu” cafés, coffeehouses, bakeries, bars and even seafood and sake houses are distributed across the South, many of them easily found on the Atlanta-based search engine. Now that scientists at last are attaching real numbers to the threat of kudzu, it’s becoming clear that most of what people think about kudzu is wrong. In addition, it can grow really, really fast. It’s as if many have come to view the Southeast as little more than a kudzu desert. Fresh or cooked. California Do Not Sell My Info It was an invasive that grew best in the landscape modern Southerners were most familiar with—the roadsides framed in their car windows. Kudzu is a green, blossoming vine native to Japan and China. Click here. Also do not eat the pods or seeds. The widely cited nine-million-acre number appears to have been plucked from a small garden club publication, not exactly the kind of source you expect a federal agency or academic journal to rely on. Start Your Own Money Making Backyard Nursery! The blossom can be used to make pickles or a jelly — a taste between apple and peach — and the root is full of edible starch. Yet the popular myth won a modicum of scientific respectability. Asian privet, by comparison, takes up 14 times the amount of space that kudzu does. It was conspicuous even at 65 miles per hour, reducing complex and indecipherable landscape details to one seemingly coherent mass. In news media and scientific accounts and on some government websites, kudzu is typically said to cover seven million to nine million acres across the United States. I’m not sure when I first began to doubt. A study of one site showed a one-third reduction in kudzu biomass in less than two years. Also avoid kudzu that has been sprayed with deadly chemicals to control the growth of the invasive plant. Cookie Policy Kudzu vine also produces seedpods containing three to ten seeds, but it can take several years for kudzu seeds to germinate and grow. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study, the use of combined management programs can control kudzu more quickly than individual methods in use today.. An invasive weed, kudzu was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s. But kudzu spread quickly and overtook farms and buildings, leading some to call to kudzu "the vine that ate the South.” Kudzu's root, flower, and leaf are used to make medicine. Kudzu contains isoflavones, estrogen-like compounds thought to offer various health benefits. 1. In the decades that followed kudzu’s formal introduction at the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, farmers found little use for a vine that could take years to establish, was nearly impossible to harvest and couldn’t tolerate sustained grazing by horses or cattle. Many historians believe it was the persuasive power of a popular radio host and Atlanta Constitution columnist named Channing Cope that finally got those seedlings in the ground. Make a blossom jelly. Kudzu has appeared larger than life because it’s most aggressive when planted along road cuts and railroad embankments—habitats that became front and center in the age of the automobile. Bored children traveling rural highways insist their parents wake them when they near the green kudzu monsters stalking the roadside. They use their piercing mouthparts to suck juices from the plant. Kudzu bugs feed on the kudzu vine that is an invasive plant that is now becoming common in the southeastern United States. Cope spoke of kudzu in religious terms: Kudzu, he proclaimed on his Depression-era broadcasts, would make barren Southern farms “live again.” There were hundreds of thousands of acres in the South “waiting for the healing touch of the miracle vine.”. It appeared not to stop because there were no grazers to eat it back. Some discovered a kind of perverse pleasure in its rank growth, as it promised to engulf the abandoned farms, houses and junkyards people couldn’t bear to look at anymore. Vote Now! The Japanese kudzu bug, first found in a garden near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport six years ago, apparently hitched a plane ride and is now infesting vines throughout the South, sucking the plants’ vital juices. There were kudzu queens and regionwide kudzu planting contests. The more I investigate, the more I recognize that kudzu’s place in the popular imagination reveals as much about the power of American mythmaking, and the distorted way we see the natural world, as it does about the vine’s threat to the countryside. More important, it obscures the beauty of the South’s original landscape, reducing its rich diversity to a simplistic metaphor. There's never been much use for the stuff, but if you were offered, say, a kudzu salad, would you eat it? Certain parts of the kudzu plant are edible to humans, and some would argue even tasty. He was, as cultural geographer Derek Alderman suggests, an evangelist. I’d walk an extra mile to avoid patches of it and the writhing knots of snakes that everyone said were breeding within. Older leaves can be fried like potato chips, or used to wrap food for storage or cooking. Farmers still couldn’t find a way to make money from the crop. E.O. “If you based it on what you saw on the road, you’d say, dang, this is everywhere,” said Nancy Loewenstein, an invasive plants specialist with Auburn University. It can regulate glucose levels. Kudzu root has also shown to help regulate glucose, AKA sugar, in the … But its mythic rise and fall should alert us to the careless secondhand way we sometimes view the living world, and how much more we might see if we just looked a little deeper. Invasives often thrive in the absence of native predators, competitors, or parasites. In a few decades, a conspicuously Japanese name has come to sound like something straight from the mouth of the South, a natural complement to inscrutable words like Yazoo, gumbo and bayou. But in 1935, as dust storms damaged the prairies, Congress declared war on soil erosion and enlisted kudzu as a primary weapon. Wilson, the American biologist and naturalist at Harvard, says the central Gulf Coast states “harbor the most diversity of any part of eastern North America, and probably any part of North America.” Yet when it comes to environmental and conservation funding, the South remains a poor stepchild. Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Magazine Kudzu joins other invasive species of all types that cause an estimated $1.4 trillion in damage worldwide each year, $138 billion of that in the U.S., according to the Nature Conservancy. The bug, while harmless to houseplants and people, often enters houses. Megacopta cribraria, also called the bean plataspid, kudzu bug, globular stink bug and lablab bug, is a shield bug native to India and China, where it is an agricultural pest of lablab beans and other legumes. or “I thought the whole world would someday be covered by it, that it would grow as fast as Jack’s beanstalk, and that every person on earth would have to live forever knee-deep in its leaves,” Morris wrote in Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood. Turns out that kudzu can be tasty in a salad or cooked down collard-green style. From 1935-1953, the federal government encouraged farmers to grow Kudzu to prevent soil erosion. The states of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana are all facing this new threat. From what we do know, it appears that kudzu can treat binge drinking and alcoholism–and there aren’t many other herbal and pharmaceutical medicines that can say the same. I had no reason to doubt declarations that kudzu covered millions of acres, or that its rampant growth could consume a large American city each year. Cope wasn’t just an advocate. And that, perhaps, is the real danger of kudzu. The root should be cooked. Give a Gift. This plant is a staple food in Japan. Like most Southern children, I accepted, almost as a matter of faith, that kudzu grew a mile a minute and that its spread was unstoppable. Kudzu was introduced in North America in 1876 in the southeastern U.S. to prevent soil erosion. This has earned it the nickname "the vine that ate the South". In 1998, Congress officially listed kudzu under the Federal Noxious Weed Act. Cook the root - it contains about 10% starch which can be extracted and used as a coating in deep fried foods, or for thickening soups etc. Water Is Free. Invasive roses had covered more than three times as much forestland as kudzu. 17th Annual Photo Contest Finalists Announced. By Sandra Avant July 13, 2016 . Look it up now! The leaves, vine tips, flowers, and roots are edible; the vines are not. How to Eat Kudzu. Kudzu is … Though William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and others in that first great generation of Southern writers largely ignored kudzu, its metaphorical attraction became irresistible by the early 1960s. They are not edible. KUDZU, AN INVASIVE PLANT . Kudzu leaves are edible and can be cooked like other vegetables. Advertising Notice But the myth of kudzu had been firmly rooted. It veils more serious threats to the countryside, like suburban sprawl, or more destructive invasive plants such as the dense and aggressive cogon grass and the shrubby privet. By the early 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service was quietly back-pedaling on its big kudzu push. Today, it frequently appears on popular top-ten lists of invasive species. Two popular how-to books, one a kudzu craft book and the other a “culinary and healing guide,” are, strangely, among the most frequently quoted sources on the extent of kudzu’s spread, even in scholarly accounts. The bare … They don't call it the vine that ate the South for nothing. Those roadside plantings—isolated from grazing, impractical to manage, their shoots shimmying up the trunks of second-growth trees—looked like monsters. Young kudzu shoots are tender and taste similar to snow peas. In 1876, farmers brought kudzu to America to feed livestock and prevent soil erosion. Kudzu had been used in the southern United States specifically to feed goats on land that had limited resources. Why Do Americans Spend Billions on the Bottled Stuff? Keep up-to-date on: © 2020 Smithsonian Magazine. And though many sources continue to repeat the unsupported claim that kudzu is spreading at the rate of 150,000 acres a year—an area larger than most major American cities—the Forest Service expects an increase of no more than 2,500 acres a year. Privacy Statement It devours soybeans, too, a huge moneymaker of a crop. Kudzu may also be mistaken for riverbank grape (Vitis riparia), a native species that is able to climb trees but has shredded bark and coarsely toothed leaves with no leaflets. What do they eat? He started by feeding the leaves to pigs and rabbits before moving on to us humans, avoiding the larger leaves, which can be too tough. Though “not terribly worried” about the threat of kudzu, Loewenstein calls it “a good poster child” for the impact of invasive species precisely because it has been so visible to so many. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that while vulnerable species are primarily in the Southeast, most lands protected as federal and state parks are in the West. The leaves, vine tips and shoots, flowers and roots can be safely consumed by humans. However, kudzu does make a good forage crop. Kudzu took root so well in the Southeastern U.S. that the U.S. Department of Agriculture now considers it a weed. In the often-cited poem “Kudzu,” Georgia novelist James Dickey teases Southerners with their own tall tales, invoking an outrageous kudzu-smothered world where families close the windows at night to keep the invader out, where the writhing vines and their snakes are indistinguishable. The leaves can be used like spinach and eaten raw, chopped up and baked in quiches, cooked like collards, or deep fried. Introduction to Kudzu The three parts of the kudzu plant that are edible are the: Young leaves and vine tips, Flower blossoms, and Roots. You can't drive a mile in the South without spying a curtain of kudzu, so learn a little about this invasive species so that you have a few fun plant facts to share the next time you catch a glimpse of the notorious vine. Continue So where did the more fantastic claims of kudzu’s spread come from? 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The hype didn’t come out of nowhere. Avoid using invasive plants in gardens and landscaping. Even existing stands of kudzu now exude the odor of their own demise, an acrid sweetness reminiscent of grape bubble gum and stink bug. A Faster Way to Get Rid of Kudzu . Kudzu bugs get their name from the fact they are known to feed on kudzu. Well, first and foremost, kudzu is extremely resistant to both stress and drought, and it can easily survive in soils with low amounts of nitrogen. He is also the long-time garden columnist for the Alabama Press-Register. Information about the device's operating system, Information about other identifiers assigned to the device, The IP address from which the device accesses a client's website or mobile application, Information about the user's activity on that device, including web pages and mobile apps visited or used, Information about the geographic location of the device when it accesses a website or mobile application. The leaves of the kudzu plant can be prepared and eaten just as you would with spinach. Confronted by these bleak images, some Southerners began to wear their kudzu proudly, evidence of their invincible spirit. Railroad and highway developers, desperate for something to cover the steep and unstable gashes they were carving into the land, planted the seedlings far and wide.

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