Into the Weeds

Winter for us means launching a new campaign in the kudzu wars. Two or three warm Saturdays in January or February Betsy and I always grab our heavy-duty loppers, our gloves, our water bottles, and wade into the kudzu bramble on the western end of our property. The vines there hang from the trees. They are so thick Tarzan would feel right at home.

Don’t confuse what we are doing with all the “kudzu test plot” signs. Our effort is personal and tiny compared to what the Kudzu Coalition is doing all over the area. We’re not that organized. We’ve never been to “kudzu college” or watched the coalition’s “weapon of mass kudzu destruction” (a bobcat with an engineered fork tool for removing the vines). We support and admire the Coalition’s work but find our own deep joy and satisfaction in carrying out this passionate insurgency in the suburbs against our neighborhood’s invader.

When we moved in five years ago the kudzu covered the field at the entrance, and the vines served as an iron curtain along the flood plain forest’s edge. Our first campaign was to clear that field. It took us two summers. We used a lawn mower and loppers-no chemicals. Now the field’s kudzu free, and we’ve struck a first blow against the vines that have climbed the trees.

Everybody should know by now that kudzu’s not native to the South. It’s an import, brought in from Japan over a hundred years ago as an ornamental shade plant giving a lush tropical feel to yards, then starting around 1910 it was tried for cattle fodder, and finally, in the 1930s, cultivated for the control of erosion in the farmed-out South. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now, we’re at constant war with it.

So how did it get to our neighborhood? It’s my theory that the Mustang Drive kudzu migrated to the site 30 years ago with red dirt fill used to span the finger of flood plain at the entrance to our subdivision. I came up with my theory when we brought some big rocks in for landscaping. They’d come from the other side of town, and the spring after the contractor dumped them on our lot I observed one or two strands of the vine sneaking outward from the dirt pile. When I saw those sprouts it was if I’d seen the first landing craft hit the beach at Normandy.

Down on the flat below our house the vine had been an occupying army for over a generation. Once established, the invading kudzu flourished until we built our house and started our guerilla war on the out-of-place plant.

“I’m fired up,” Betsy says as we leave the house. She’s “geared up” too, with loppers in hand, ready to wade into the weeds again. When we reach where we’ve left off the winter before, Betsy goes at it furiously, her loppers snipping away at any vine in her path. It’s no easy task. Sometimes she identifies the hairy vines of poison ivy and she’s allergic. She lets me lop those. But when she spots them, the kudzu vines get a nip from her loppers. It’s often grown up and over privit “hummocks,” and the vines wind tight around the branches, so it takes some technique. The trees wear their vines snug like clothing, or the vines hang like ropes from the mast of a ship rigged with vegetation. None of this deters us.

We like nothing more than striking a blow against the evil empire, kudzu and its allies, privit, wild rose, and honeysuckle. We’re foliage fundamentalists on a kudzu crusade. We stay at it when we could be doing something else. After several hours of cutting we’ve made progress. Freeing up one or two trees in an afternoon makes us feel like true liberators. We’ll get out one or two more times and call it a season. It’s our goal to see our tiny corner of the world kudzu free.

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