Holly Kozelsky


The army of leaves and vines continues its march cross Martinsville, Henry County, Virginia and the South.

Kudzu, it seems, is everywhere you turn around, and it’s always a little farther along than the last time you checked.

One year, kudzu was crossing a road near where I lived when I used to live in town. It had completely taken over a valley between two roads and an area of abandoned houses on the other side of the valley. Only an upstairs window still peeked out between its greenery.

Now it was crossing over into civilization. I used to check it out during every morning jog. Each day it was several inches farther across the road than it was the day before. Would it reach the other side before it got too damaged by the passing traffic to live?

Yes, it did reach the other side, despite how many times each day it was crushed by passing cars. The family who lived in the house in the middle of the otherwise pristine yard it just had reached didn’t do anything to impede it, and I didn’t want to let it take root on my block. I went back to its origin and cut the vine, destroying what was (and would have remained) an interesting experiment – but I just didn’t want to pay the price for my curiosity.

Besides, how surprising an outcome would that be, anyway? There’s not much more predictable than kudzu taking over everything.

Kudzu fearlessly and ruthlessly grows over everything in its path, leaving only suggestions of what used to be there: The large hulking dinosaurs used to be trees; the evenly rectangular green shapes used to be houses; medium-sized lumps once were cars.

Kudzu’s invasive counterpart in many parts of the county, particularly Leatherwood, is Miscanthus sinensis, a grass that grows in clumps as tall as you are. Actually, it can get up to 12 feet tall. It quickly invades roadsides, forest edges, old fields and any other areas that recently had been disturbed. It spreads through rhizomes.

I spent five years battling Miscanthus sinensis in my yard before reaching a semblance of victory (it never can be completely defeated). It had taken over a disturbed area where a previous owner had meant to put in a fish pond but never finished. It’s now my vegetable garden, but in the beginning trying to get out the Miscanthus sinensis was a tremendous struggle.

First, I would dig and dig and dig around the immense and deep clumps of rhizomes. Then I’d have to haul off the clumps of grass as big as I am to the edge of the woods – after cutting them off the rhizomes, because any little bit of those just creates brand new plants quicker than you can blink.

When I would miss a week getting to it, it would grow at least a foot, 2 feet, 3. In the areas I mow, it could get practically knee-high before it was mowing time again.

The point I consider victory is just that the Miscanthus isn’t as bad as it was before. There always will be more Miscanthus in the garden, because the entire hay field behind the yard is riddled with it. As much as can be considered a victory is that now, whatever Miscanthus that gets in the garden, I can pull out with my bare hands instead of having to dig it out with tools.

There’s a corner in Leatherwood – Route 57 and Stoney Mountain Road – where Miscanthus and kudzu are going head-to-head in battle. Tall spikes of Miscanthus rise mockingly over the reaching lengths of the kudzu vines.

It’s the modern-day, Southern version of the old Godzilla versus King Kong movie.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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