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Invasive Plant: Artist Uses Kudzu as Primary Material

Dec 16, 2015 03:44 PM EST

Kudzu is a vine of dispute and wrapping, and has been so since shortly after it was introduced into the United States in 1876 as an ornamental plant from Japan, at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. It is considered one of the top-six invasive plants in the United States, according to the Smithsonian.

Although kudzu has often been called "the vine that ate the South," some biologists have noted that we see it more often alongside highway corridors--and therefore assume, possibly incorrectly, that the damage is as significant away from those roadways.

Nevertheless, many in the South and elsewhere see it as a plant that wraps pines and covers landscapes. One artist, Mark Barnes, is using that readily available vine to make his products. He says that kudzu dries firm and unpliant, and therefore is a useful material, according to an article in the Oxford Eagle (Miss.).

Ever since taking a 1996 class in North Carolina, Barnes has been making baskets from kudzu and selling them at art festivals. Lately he's also been crafting kudzu Christmas trees that are lit, and they are big sellers, the article confirmed.

"You don't have to treat the vine, you don't have to soak them or boil them, and you don't have to order basket-making supplies online, there's really no measuring, and the fact that it's also very forgiving too, which I guess is why I like it," Barnes said in the article. "I'm not boxed into a certain thing."

Barnes works in North Carolina and around Oxford, Miss., and can find kudzu in both places.

"You can pretty much find it everywhere but here it's predominant. It's some pretty serious business. The only place I've seen it worse is up in the mountains in North Carolina, like around Hickory up to Asheville, it's really taken over," said Barnes in the article.

From Barnes' point of view, kudzu is indeed all over the place, and has taken over portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Fortunately, kudzu can be treated as a wood for products like Barnes' baskets and trees.

"When you pick it up, it dries like a regular wood would, but it's firm," he said in the article. "It doesn't stay pliable. The only thing you have to worry about with the baskets themselves is you just really want them to stay dry, otherwise they will rot like any other basket would."

If you'd like to see a photo of Barnes' kudzu Christmas trees, click through to Lizzie Oglesby's photo on Flickr, here.

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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