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kudzu kings and pyrophites

There's a distinct chance, if I've known you very long at all, that you have heard me talk about Grady Clay's book Real Places: An Unconventional Guide to America's Generic Landscape. You may have been forced to sit indulgently while I rumbled through our bookshelves looking for it to read you a particular entry.

There are lots of great entries--The Ice, Party Street, Blast Site (if the infernoqrushers demand, I will post an excerpt of that one), Lover's Leap--but one my most favorite of favorites is The Kudzu. The Kudzu is too long to reproduce here, but I'll offer a taste. (There's an odd, lovely poetic excerpty thing going on with many of these entries at Aris 3 here, including The Kudzu.) I have chosen to excerpt the portion about how even kudzu can be an explosive:
As a transplanted foreigner, kudzu's first offense had been to disregard property lines. Further, it climbed fences and grew a foot or more daily, up to one hundred feet a season. Cartoonists enjoyed playing with the same visual theme showing a rampageous plant reaching around the house. Shouts the anxious onlooker "Here it comes again." It also had become a fire hazard. The first killing frost could convert THE KUDZU "into a flash fuel, a fuse to nearby fields and timber. Eradication necessitates burning, plowing, and, salting the soil with herbicides."

(Another pyrophyte, eucalyptus, was imported wholesale to California in 1856 as an ornamental curiousity. The eucalyptus-planting speculative bubble* "began to burst in 1910 when it was discovered that the trees transplanted to California were virtually worthless (as timber), and that they constituted a serious fire hazard." They still do. A freak frost in 1972 killed over a million eucalyptus from the root collar up, and only good fortune prevented another California holocaust.)

Gradual disenchantment set in as THE KUDZU'S nuisance value was recognized, especially by Northern tourists flabbergasted by natural growth of such magnitude. Continued research shows THE KUDZU has no competition for certain forms of erosion control. Further, say the authors of a popular book on kudzu, its "greatest future in America lies in the use of the root as a source of the remarkable kudzu powder and the medicinal kudzu root."

But both its assets and liabilities THE KUDZU kept to the South. Its resistance to freezing fades as it passes "The Kudzu Line" somewhere around the thirty-eighth parallel through Missouri-Kentucky-southern Indiana. Unlike the former Confederate Army, THE KUDZU poses no threat to the North.
Here's an excerpt from an Emory University alumni profile (scroll down) of Clay about how the book came to be:
In the spring of 1984, after having retired as editor of the journal Landscape Architecture, Grady Clay accepted a position to lecture in any subject he wanted at Texas A&M University. He decided to engage his students in an investigation of generic man-made places--for example, "the good address," "the edge of town," "the courthouse square"--in and around the university. The subject was, "How Places Work."

"I went to Texas with a list of maybe fifty to seventy generic places, and by the time I got through, the list was up to about five hundred and it was unstoppable," says Clay, a 1938 Emory College graduate and longtime urban affairs editor at Louisville's Courier Journal. "Nobody had done this, and there was no such list [of generic places] extant in the United States that I could find. So I realized I was plowing new ground, and I was off and running, already beginning to write essays on each of these generic places."

A little more than a decade later, that initial project culminated in the publication of Clay's latest book, Real Places: An Unconventional Guide to America's Generic Landscape, published by the University of Chicago Press. Even though he has cataloged some five thousand such generic places in his files, Clay limited his book to examining just 124. "So the price of the book wouldn't go out of the ceiling," he says.
Don't you want to know what the other secret, generic places of the American landscape are? I know I do.

I also lurve the fact that one of the book's back-cover blurbs is from Wilbur Zelinsky, Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

* Where do I get in on the "eucalyptus-planting speculative bubble" action? Anyone?


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