Kudzu–known as “the vine that ate the South”–exists as both an invasive plant species and a romantic symbol of southern culture. It was introduced to the United States from Asia in the 19th century and originally marketed as a shade-giving plant used to ornament homes, but the hot and humid southern climate proved such a perfect breeding ground, it quickly grew out of control, particularly in rural areas. Kudzu exists from Virginia to eastern Texas and is particularly prevalent in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Kudzu’s ability to grow quickly and envelop other plants, such as trees, as well as man-made structures has both environmental and economic consequences, but also gives the plant (now considered a weed) a terrible beauty. Its status both as a symbol of devastation to the South and of a certain aesthetic is recognized in the work of photographer William Christenberry, and makes the plant a perfect backdrop to Southern Gothic literature. With its uncompromising consumption–stemming from something as seemingly benign as a decorative plant–kudzu lends itself, with a macabre serendipity, to the grotesque that permeates the genre.