In the early 20th century, soil erosion plagued the American South, but luckily there was a cure-all available from the Far East: kudzu (from the Japanese word for “vine,” 葛 or kuzu). Farmers expected the plant to crawl graciously like a high-class ivy, but instead kudzu grew a foot a day until it covered the entire Southern landscape like a layer of green, leafy icing.
Curiously, I’ve never heard anyone talk about whether the introduction of kudzu actually solved the soil erosion problem, but we all now read the vine-landscapes as a quintessential part of Southern culture. Americans, however, are hardly as crafty as the Japanese and have yet to turn kudzu into powdered starch-based food products or clothing (葛布). We just keep the vine as the butt of a cruel landscape joke and a symbol for R.E.M.’s early career.
For all the lamenting, I’m not sure the trees hiding underneath the monster weed are so special and unique to start with. At least kudzu’s Imperial expansion gave the Southern United States a distinctive environmental appearance.