Kudzu Documentary’s Enduring Legacy

Sunset over kudzu

I was searching for a documentary topic when I called a friend to pick his brain. “You could do a documentary on kudzu,” he said and I was drawn into a field of tangled vines that hold me to this day. That conversation was in 1994 and in it I learned that my friend’s mother made baskets by weaving kudzu vines.

With the help of student research assistant Robert Evers, I found fascinating people making things from kudzu, determined people trying to kill kudzu, and I unraveled the almost too strange to be true history of the kudzu plant in the US.

“The Amazing Story of Kudzu” was broadcast in Alabama in 1995 and distributed to PBS stations nationwide in 1996. I was interviewed by BBC Radio just before the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. They wanted to prepare visitors to Atlanta for the large areas of green vines they would witness. I have joked ever since about being one of the world’s leading scholars on kudzu.

The image of sunset over kudzu above was captured by cinematographer Greg McNair. I found what I thought would be the perfect spot to shoot it not knowing that Greg would have to stand in an ant bed. We used three thousand watts of light to illuminate the leaves in the foreground. The image has been used in textbooks and in brochures. It was also used as the backdrop for a conference on invasive plant species in China.

The simple web presence I created to promote this documentary remains popular today and I continue to get email questions about “the vine that ate the South.”

For more about kudzu, visit The Amazing Story of Kudzu.

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