Kudzu! Mention of the word in most parts of the southeastern United States evokes unfavorable comment. Sometimes called “mile-a-minute vine” because of its fast growth of up to a foot per day, Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) was introduced to the United States as a decorative plant at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. The pleasant appearing vine with purple flowers quickly became popular as a hay and forage crop and was widely used to control soil erosion. Soon, however, it began to exhibit less agreeable behaviors. The plant’s rapid growth made its control difficult and it not only covered pastures and hillsides, but full grown trees as well. It grew across roads and railways and people spoke of its harboring snakes and rodents. Kudzu’s control became a major burden for public agencies and landowners alike.
Luckily, kudzu has not taken over southeastern Louisiana. In New Orleans, it is occasionally seen around the city’s periphery and on a few isolated lots about town.
As with most things occurring in abundance, creative people are finding ways to use kudzu. Some old uses are again being exploited, but the real excitement surrounds tomorrow’s possibilities such as passive cooling of dwellings through shade production and being used as a source of energy, food, and medical products.