(Editor's note: Lookout Mountain, Ga., Councilmember Taylor Watson asked us to remind residents that now is a great time to spray and remove kudzu on your property. By city ordinance, each property owner is responsible for removing kudzu and other invasive species, such as English ivy, and fines can be issued if the plants are not removed. The column below originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of the Lookout Mountain Mirror.)
I grew up fearing kudzu. When I was a little girl, my grandmother talked about it the same way she talked about a Russian invasion, always keeping an eye peeled for the threat of either. I don’t remember actually seeing it up close, probably because she never let it get a foothold on any spot she could reach in her leather pumps, veiled chapeau and kid gloves.
But my grandmother’s job is not done. Now, 60 years later, I see it everywhere – up close and personal. I drive past enormous masses of it on the way up the mountain, and I see it suffocating the treetops within city limits. It lays over shrubbery along the road in great billows, inching its aggressive tendrils right onto the asphalt. It makes its way up stately oaks and pines and other native trees, clamoring rapidly toward sunlight and suffocating any and all in its way.
This non-native invasive vine was actually introduced to the U.S. at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, and until the mid-’50s, farmers in the South were encouraged to plant it to control soil erosion. To say it backfired is an understatement. At maturity, kudzu grows about a foot a day and is swallowing the U.S. at the rate of 50,000 baseball fields per year. It kills other plants by smothering them under its solid blanket of leaves, hogging sunlight and water and entwining trunks and branches in its thick vines. Obviously, by the time the authorities officially began attempting to control “the vine that ate the South,” it was too late.
When we moved to our neighborhood on Bartram Road, I was dismayed to realize the woods behind our house were overrun with this horrendous vine. We began the arduous task of eradication. My neighbor initially sprayed it with an herbicide, and we pulled it down from the trees, unwrapping the tenacious vines and bagging them in heavy black contractor bags. The bags sat in the sun in our driveway for months until there was no sign of life on the vines, and only then did I dispose of them.
After the winter, I ventured back down in the woods and was stunned to see new growth on a thick arm-sized branch of kudzu. It was cut from the root, but left lying in the dirt. Like something out of a horror movie, it had rooted, and I had to pry it out of the earth.
Kudzu is next to impossible to control, but if untended, there is no doubt it will change the landscape of Lookout Mountain. I think we need to take off the kid gloves and deal with it, one way or another. Or maybe leave them on, and enlist the powerful workforce of our area’s garden clubs, book clubs, service leagues, PTOs, church groups, and of course, Love Lookout. Because if we don’t, this place we love will be unrecognizable.