Kudzu Kills: New Research Shows That the Vine That Won’t Die Also Releases Harmful Ozone Gas – But Is It a Scourge from God?

Left: kudzu up close; kudzu devouring a utility pole; kudzu in Raleigh takes shape Christ statue in Rio de Janero (inset); and kudzu eats a truck
Left: kudzu up close; kudzu devouring a utility pole; kudzu in Raleigh takes shape Christ statue in Rio de Janero (inset); and kudzu eats a truck
Kudzu is the vine that ate the South — or rather is eating the South, at the rate of 125,000 acres of fields, suburban backyards and city alleys per year. It is also one of the very few things Southerners of all stripes can agree on. Whether smart or slow, liberal or conservative; black, white or other; rich or poor; young or old; 15 generations in or new Yankee transplant — everyone agrees that kudzu is a scourge.

And while research shows that the nearly impossible to kill vine has medicinal properties — it is being tested for efficacy in treating migraine headaches, vertigo, cancer prevention, various allergies, gastrointestinal upsets and even potentially helping alcohol abuse — a new report suggests that kudzu emits a toxic gas:

A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported a link between kudzu and the production of ozone, the colorless and odorless gas that is the main component of smog. Ozone can damage lung tissue, increasing inflammation and the risk of asthma attacks…

A legume, it captures nitrogen from the air and transfers it into surrounding soil.

Normally this is a good thing, Bloom said. Plants need nitrogen to grow. Until nitrogen from the air is broken down into an easier-to-digest form by “nitrogen-fixing” plants and bacteria that work with them, other plants can’t access it.

…The nitrogen-rich soil around kudzu can also emit gases that react with chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, creating ozone.

[Researchers] found that the presence of kudzu more than doubled the concentration of nitric oxide coming from the soil.

Plugging their data into a computer scenario in which kudzu covered all nonagricultural, nonurban soils in the region by 2050, they then calculated that, in some areas — specifically parts of Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee — the number of “high-ozone events” would increase by as many as seven days per year, up more than 35 percent compared with another hypothetical scenario without kudzu.

A high-ozone event was defined as occurring when ozone levels reach 70 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency air-quality standard for ozone is 75 parts per billion. The agency has proposed changing the standard to 60-70 parts per billion.

Prior to these findings, kudzu’s main threat to human life was its ability to take down city power grids. It does this by climbing and consuming utility poles in vacant city lots or alleys and then inserting its tendrils into transformers until the system shorts out. This is most likely to happen in July and August, the height of kudzu’s growing season, when air conditioning can be a matter of life and death for the elderly and infirm.


The revelation that kudzu emits toxic gases, which makes it even more or a scourge than was previously known, also prompts a question about Southern culture. Why have Southern evangelicals, who usually can’t let a scourge pass without attributing it to divine retribution for the American original sin of liberal-ness, ignored the fact that kudzu seems to have been created by the Almighty specifically to smite the states that comprised the old Confederacy?

Interestingly, kudzu was introduced to the United States in 1876, around the same time that Jim Crow was born in the South. Since then, the vine has despoiled the Southern countryside with a rapaciousness that a creationist might rightly see as the handiwork of an Intelligent Designer with a score to settle.

But the introduction of kudzu at the moment of Jim Crow’s birth is just a coincidence, right? Not by the standards of Virginia-born TV preachers Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, who within 48 hours of the terror attacks in September 2001 attributed the horrific violence, not to the Islamic radicals who planned the attack, but rather to God’s vengeance against the ACLU — Falwell said, “The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this” — as well as abortionists, pagans, feminists and gays and lesbians, to whom Falwell said, “I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”

Nor is it a coincidence by the standards of apocalyptic preacher John Hagee of Texas who claimed that God smote New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina because a gay event was scheduled in the city — nor by the standards of North Carolina’s own Franklin Graham, son of pioneering evangelist Billy Graham, who also said God smote New Orleans because it was “one wicked city.”

More recently, simultaneous with the rise of tea baggery, which has roiling undercurrents of racism and has particularly taken root in the South, God has ratcheted up his smiting of the Deep South, as noted here earlier this month, with the Gulf Oil spill.

Just to clarify His intent, the Designer recently even fashioned a kudzu vine in a desolate industrial lot near Raleigh into the form of the giant statue Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado Mountain above Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was a miracle.

Despite all these signs from God, Southern conservatives have failed to heed Luke 6:42, “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

So will this new finding that kudzu, the ubiquitous killer of southern farmland and electrical grids, has also been emitting a deadly gas into Dixiana’s damp and dusky air for 13 decades finally make southern conservatives see that God is punishing for their bigotry, hatefulness and hypocrisy?

Eh, don’t hold your breath — unless of course there is a massive growth of kudzu in your vicinity.


6 thoughts on “Kudzu Kills: New Research Shows That the Vine That Won’t Die Also Releases Harmful Ozone Gas – But Is It a Scourge from God?”

  1. Of course Kudzu is a scourge from God. They done tried to kill it every which way they can and no herby-cide will even kill it. It’s interesting that the only place in the South where it doesn’t grow is in New Orleans, the most sinful place in the region. I’ve never seen it around here. But then, it might not do well in the presence of crude oil fumes!

  2. Yeah, it won’t grow anywhere in the devil’s domain — which fortunately includes the entire Western United States, especially including West Hollywood.

    Seriously, I read that the Japanese keep it under control by only allowing it to grow in barrels. They use it for shade, like wisteria, and to feed livestock, even though American cows won’t touch it.

    1. Trish, the Lord works in mysterious ways. The absence of kudzu there may be because Florida was still relatively more undeveloped during the Civil War than other states. For example, North Carolina — which was poorer and more backward than Virginia and South Carolina back then — held very few slaves but lost the more of its men to battle than the other states. Today, North Carolina is positively drowning in kudzu but I guess nobody ever said God was fair.

      In Southern California, the vine that grows most like kudzu is morning glory, which can take over a yard in the course of a few months. Pretty to look at but still hard to get rid of when it gets out of control.

  3. Pshaw. The reason Florida’s main contribution to the Civil War was supplying troop stores is because of its ports and railways, which were well established while the cotton states were doing whatever it was they were doing. Just because we hadn’t been a state very long didn’t mean we were undeveloped. The Spanish, British, and French had already seen to that and St. Augustine had been around, looking not all that different from today, for 300 years at the time of the Civil War.

    1. Then I’m at a loss to explain why God hasn’t smote Florida with kudzu. Maybe it’s because He torments you with hurricanes and thunderstorms.

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