…The hype didn’t come out of nowhere. Kudzu has appeared larger than life because it’s most aggressive when planted along road cuts and railroad embankments—habitats that became front and center in the age of the automobile. As trees grew in the cleared lands near roadsides, kudzu rose with them. It appeared not to stop because there were no grazers to eat it back. But, in fact, it rarely penetrates deeply into a forest; it climbs well only in sunny areas on the forest edge and suffers in shade.
Still, along Southern roads, the blankets of untouched kudzu create famous spectacles. Bored children traveling rural highways insist their parents wake them when they near the green kudzu monsters stalking the roadside. “If you based it on what you saw on the road, you’d say, dang, this is everywhere,” said Nancy Loewenstein, an invasive plants specialist with Auburn University. Though “not terribly worried” about the threat of kudzu, Loewenstein calls it “a good poster child” for the impact of invasive species precisely because it has been so visible to so many.It was an invasive that grew best in the landscape modern Southerners were most familiar with—the roadsides framed in their car windows. It was conspicuous even at 65 miles per hour, reducing complex and indecipherable landscape details to one seemingly coherent mass. And because it looked as if it covered everything in sight, few people realized that the vine often fizzled out just behind that roadside screen of green.