Bracken creep

Since the Civil War, the South has had its share of problems.

It is not out of the woods yet. In fact, you can say it is getting deeper into the woods. This is because of kudzu, which some Southerners think is worse than the Union Army.

Kudzu is from Japan, as are a lot of other things these days. It sounds like something a person yells while doing karate, but it actually is a fast-growing vine. Its growth rate, we are told, has been compared with a Subaru, another Japanese import, and while it does not move as fast as the car on level ground, it allegedly wins races going uphill. In several undocumented cases, small autos and trucks have lost the race against the kudzu vine and disappeared. Their spare parts, including hubcaps, have turned up later inside kudzu pods.

This tough, vigorous vine was introduced to the United States as a means of controlling soil erosion, especially along steep road embankments. It surpassed expectations. It not only covered the road embankments but also the roads - as well as fences and the occasional gas station.

Floridians and Georgians have extremely strong opinions about the plant. Kudzu, they tell you, is never planted on purpose. But they are careful of what they say if they think the plant is within earshot.

Actually, the ominous, hairy vine is the sort of thing monster movies are made of. With the right director, and Vincent Price as the mad botanist, a kudzu horror movie could gross $125 million. That is, if the actors survived to finish the picture and kudzu got top billing.

Events have now taken a curious turn. Just at the point when people in Florida and Georgia are making a last, gallant stand, sending their children to places where even kudzu can't grow, like North Dakota, a pro-kudzu movement has sprung up in Tennessee. Certain groups are claiming that kudzu not only can be made into baskets and furniture but can also be used as a cheap, fast food, to be eaten with noodles and fried seafood. The taste, a carefully guarded secret among those poor wretches who volunteered for the experiment, presumably could enhance the flavor of squid, eels, or octopus. There are no reports of interest from Burger King.

It is obvious that since it is impossible to control kudzu growth, the US must put it to some expandable use. Either that, or find a way to match kudzu against the fire ant invasion.

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