Driving along 695, it’s easy to ignore the greenery beyond the concrete medians and metal guardrails.
But that’s just where one of our area’s most troublesome invasive species hides and thrives. It’s so troublesome, in fact, that residents in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi have called it “the scourge that ate the south.”
Kudzu, a strong woody vine with rather lovely purple flowers, is a plant native to Asia. It was intentionally introduced to North America at the Philadelphia Continental Exposition in 1876 as an ornamental bush and an effortless, efficient shade producer.
Fifty years later, the vine was rebranded by the newly created Soil Erosion Service as a way to aid the crumbling farming industry during the tragic Dust Bowl era of the Great Depression. The government gave southern farmers eight dollars an hour to sow the topsoil with kudzu, then seen as a plant that would be a savior to the South, and heal the erosion crisis. The ensuing cultivation covered over one million acres, equivalent to the size of Rhode Island, with kudzu.
Once the plant took hold, there was no going back.