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Welcome to Weirdsville: Green Jaws by M. Christian

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It’s coming. If you close your eyes you can hear it: a soft skittering, hovering at the edge of awareness. The sound of rustling leaves, of gravel, of soil being inexorably pushed aside. The crackling of lumber being crushed; the sharp chimes of metal being deforming by a steady, unstoppable force.

There is no escape. Already entire towns have fallen to the green hell, this floral anaconda. Emerald ghosts of buildings, fences, telephone poles, cars — at first invisible against the verdant wave, but after a point their forms become obvious, the horror present: nothing has escaped, everything is being slowly buried, methodically consumed by its tendrils, their deadly chlorophyll embrace.

Like something from a 50’s B&W late-night horror-fest, the initial intentions were good, the betterment of mankind and all that. Inaccurate, but not by that much: well-intentioned scientist seeking to end world hunger, soil erosion, or something same, develops something that Man Was Not Meant To Know and, before the second act or a commercial for some car dealership or other, the terror reaches from it’s soil to strangle him with cheap special effects, his over-acting as humorous as it is terrifying.

In the case of this horror, though, it wasn’t one but rather several scientists and some well-meaning agricultural agencies — and it wasn’t something plucked from some atomic pile, but rather the natural environment of Japan. Though if you feel the overwhelming need to have something atomic, you can pretend that the reason for this green horror being so all-pervasive and ecologically devastating could be due to some Godzilla-sized atomic shenanigans … but only if you have that need for a kind of Universal Pictures kind of atmosphere to this already very Creepy, creeping horror.

Billed as a wonderful feed for all sorts of farm animals, and just the thing to keep American hillsides, and their precious topsoil from melting away in the next downpour, pueraria lobata was introduced to America at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Attentive participants listened, enraptured — hypnotized, if you will — to the plant’s near idyllic benefits: not only as an all-purpose feed, and soil rejuvenator, but also to how it was used by the Chinese and the Japanese for at least 2,000 years as a source for tea, cloth, paper, and starch.

But the plant’s nefarious schemes didn’t really succeed … excuse me, the plant’s miraculous benefits didn’t become really accepted till the it enraptured — hypnotized, if you will — the attendees of the Japanese exhibit at the New Orleans Exposition of 1884. There, Southern farmers were impressed by its noble floral legacy. From there it was an easy conquest … er, ‘a short time till it was widely in use through the South.’

It wasn’t just farmers that were amazed by the power of this plant. Alabama Polytechnic Institute spent many years heralding its praises and in the ‘30s the U.S. Department of Agriculture went wild trying get it distributed — paying as much as $8 an acre to locals to cultivate it. So insidious … er, so enthusiastic were the locals and experts, at first, that the South literally bloomed with festivals and fairs dedicated to this incredible vine from the far East.

Meanwhile, in this mountainous lair, Fu Manchu rubbed his hands together in cackling glee. “These Western fools, soon their lands will be –”

By I digress, and mix mythological metaphors. Suffice it to say that there are few, if any, festivals dedicated to Kudzu now.

Naming the devil — at least in this case — doesn’t diminish its power. Pueraria lobata, otherwise known as Kudzu, didn’t start out as the terror of the South. Not easy to cultivate, this member of the legume family takes some work to get going. But when it does … it really does.

The physiology of this kudzu sounds so much like a plan for green world domination that you just have to wonder if it has powers of persuasion in addition to its oriental superpowers: Kudzu’s roots can go as far as twelve feet deep, meaning you just can’t pluck it. In fact, to kill the demon weed can take as long as 10 years of persistent cutting, burning, grazing, and liberal use of herbicides. Even with this blitzkrieg of floral doom, there is no guarantee that this wily vine won’t just sneer and keep right on growing.

Speaking of growing, to give you a mind-blowing idea of how fast this little plant can grow, think of it this way — you can watch it. And it doesn’t even take glacial patience. Under perfect conditions, say anywhere in the South, Kudzu can push itself along at the rate of a foot a day. Go away for the weekend and your house could very well be gone — crushed under a blanket of verdant conquest.

Kudzu is a nasty critter — it might make good paper and tea, but it also systematically strangles anything in its path, literally squeezing the life out of anything it comes across.

To give you an idea of the extent this simple plant has in invaded our noble homeland, kudzu now covers a sizable area — not two thousand acres, not two hundred thousand acres, not just a million acres. From as far North as Massachusetts, as far West as Texas and Oklahoma, and even down to Florida where it has started to steadily eat the Everglades. Two million acres, people — two million acres of creeping, marching, strangling green.

Its isn’t just the terrain that kudzu has invaded: with the same dark sense of humor they exhibit towards everything else that has threatened their turf, Southerners laugh as their farms, homes, cars and even the occasional lethargic citizen is consumed by the tendrils of this green fiend.

James Dickey immortalized the demon-weed in his poem, “Kudzu”:

“In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows
At night to keep it out of the house.
The glass is tinged with green, even so….”

Though my favorite maxim is one that’s delightfully close to terror, and one that I think conjures the real impact this creeping terror has had on all those it has touched — or strangled: “A cow,” they say, “won’t eat kudzu, but kudzu will certainly eat a cow.”

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Posted by on Saturday, October 1st, 2005. Filed under Lifestyle. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry