Master of Arts
Kudzu, Pueraria montana, is a perennial climbing vine native to Japan that was introduced in North America in 1876. With little awareness of where the plant could thrive, people across the United States grew the vine wherever they could. As a result, kudzu was not considered northern or southern. New Deal era policies centered around soil conservation encouraged the widespread usage of kudzu vine and discovered that kudzu grew best in southeastern states. This led to an increased association of the vine with the South. During the Great Migration and with the vine’s growing reputation as an invasive species, kudzu became a symbol used to represent the South as a wild space in contrast to the North. By the 1970s, with the rise of states’ rights and religious conservatism, and the election of a president from Georgia, many northerners saw evidence of southernization. Northerners then characterized kudzu as a southern invader threatening the North. I argue that calling kudzu a southern invader reflected anxieties around southernization of the country and worked as a potent symbol for what northerners saw as unwanted southern influences.
Summary for Lay Audience
Kudzu is a vine from Japan that was introduced to North America in 1876. Gardeners, agricultural scientists, and farmers used it for various tasks, from decorating a terrace to stopping soil erosion. Kudzu grew most successfully in the South, though there were isolated instances of the plant growing northward. When the vine became more associated with the South, there also emerged problems with the plant growing over trees and plants. Meanwhile, the South began experiencing massive media attention due to crisis situations during the civil rights movement during the 1960s. As a result, northerners used kudzu as a symbol for unwanted southern influences. By the 1970s and 1980s when the entire country began to take on policies once restricted to only the South, northerners labelled the plant as a southern invader to reflect larger fears about southern influences, which persist today.
Reilly, Kenneth, "The Vine That Ate The North? Northern Reactions to Kudzu, 1876-2009" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7128.
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