Kudzu

From Appalachian Magazine (hat tip: Funk Heritage Center):

Kudzu: The Vine that Ate the South

On the night of December 7, 1941, Americans went to bed with an uneasy feeling as rumors abounded that the Japanese Imperial Army would soon be staging an invasion of the nation’s mainland. Earlier that morning, the Asian nation had attacked Pearl Harbor without warning and American military officials feared that our nation’s west coast was ill prepared to thwart a large scale Japanese invasion.

In the end, these rumors proved to be nothing more than mere hearsay and less than five years later any fear of a Japanese military invasion was forever erased; however, unbeknownst to most, a Japanese invasion on the continental United States had already begun almost a century earlier and was sweeping across the heart of Dixie much like a trojan horse.

Read the whole thing, which notes that the turning point for kudzu was around 1970, when the government stopped recommending that people plant it for cattle feed and to lessen soil erosion, and reclassified it as a weed, since it seemed to have taken over everything at the expense of all the other plants.

The law of unintended consequences strikes again!

Kudzu is only the most well-known non-native species in the southeast. We visited Callaway Gardens three years ago and saw a display featuring all the popular plants that have been imported from elsewhere – largely East Asia. The display strongly favored planting native equivalents, lest the invaders end up completely taking over. China and Japan have a similar latitude and climate to the American southeast, and so some of their plants grow very well here, but these plants have no native predators, so they enjoy an advantage over native species. Native plants have evolved to an ecological niche, which includes other organisms eating them, so they’re in balance with other populations in their ecosystem.

But what I want to know is: do native North American plants function in the same way in China – are our species invasive over there? And if not, why are Asian plants so superior, so to speak?

(I assume that someone out there is writing a dissertation exposing the dark side of the native plant movement, linking it to the long American tradition of nativism and suspicion of the Other, of which Trump’s presidency is but the latest example, etc.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *