Perennial Shadows is a film that surveys kudzu, a plant native to eastern Asia that is considered an invasive species in the United States.
The film was shot over Fourth of July weekend throughout various small towns in North Carolina and explores different ways in which kudzu can consume the landscape of a town, as it is seen in fields, on roadsides, in parking lots and other affected areas. The plant is ubiquitous, but it is unclear whether it is considered a menace or accepted as a part of regional heritage.
Perennial Shadows features original music by Joe Williams and a reading by Project Pat.
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Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States in 1876 at the World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It was presented as an exotic, ornamental plant that could decorate porches in the form of a vine. In 1935, as dust storms began to damage American prairies, Congress declared war on soil erosion and Kudzu was hailed as the miracle plant that would combat it. Farmers were encouraged and even offered money to plant the vine on properties in hopes of making Southern farms “live again.”
By 1946, it was estimated that three million acres of kudzu had been planted in the United States. The plant thrived in the climate and environment of the American Southeast and began to grow at an uncontrollable rate of nearly a foot per day. Kudzu supports itself by killing and growing on top of other plant species, making it completely capable of smothering anything from small grasses to mature trees. Killing kudzu itself is nearly impossible - it grows back almost immediately after being cut down and it can take up to ten years for herbicides to effectively contain it. By the early 1950s, promotion for the growth of kudzu had come to a halt.
The plant that was once regarded as a miracle was now considered “the vine that ate the south”. Kudzu became a staple in southern literature as a way to establish setting, but also as a metaphor for topics such as racism, politics and poverty. In Kudzu, a well known poem by the novelist James Dickey, the plant provokes horror amongst a community that shuts their windows at night in fear that snake infested kudzu vines will creep into their homes. Myth began to take over science as southerners speculated a world completely covered in the invasive vine.
Kudzu continues to spread throughout the Southeast at an estimated rate of 120,000 acres per year. It consumes buildings, destroys power lines and kills native vegetation in its path. Although the plant is intrusive and not native to the United States, it is well adapted and widely established in the regions where it thrives. Kudzu has settled as a force of nature that remains essential to the landscape and culture of the American South.