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Little Plant of Horror

Kudzu
Kudzu Kabin Designs

Kudzu and Kudzu Kabin Designs by Erin Vorhies

Walhalla, S.C.—I’ve heard three different stories now about why kudzu was brought from Japan to the southern United States in the late 1800s: to stop erosion, to provide food for livestock, and to shade the porches from the scorching summer heat of the South. Apparently the climate of Japan is very similar to that of the South (I’ve never been to Japan so I’ll take their word for it), so the assumption was, anything that thrives there will thrive here. I guess what they didn’t consider is what would happen if something thrived a little too well here—as in the case with kudzu—and now we’re left with a purposeful plant that is taking over the entire region. Found mostly in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, this plant of horror smothers trees, billboards, telephone poles, and anything else in its path. It grows twelve inches a day and cannot be killed, and livestock will not eat it. While most feel helpless in fighting this aggressive monster, one local artist managed to find use for each part of the plant. Native American Nancy Basket makes kudzu soap from the roots, jelly from the blossoms, and baskets and paper art from the vines. Visitors can stop at her gallery and home on Main Street to create their own baskets, learn the paper-making process, and choose from dozens of prints, art cards, baskets, soaps, and jellies in her shop. Ms. Basket also will show visitors around her studio, a 100-year-old barn with bales of kudzu serving as the walls and insulation. Kudos for that kudzu effort: it’s the only kudzu bale building in the world. — Erin Vorhies