If there was a plant I wanted to describe as THE plant in Jack and the Beanstalk, it has to be the Kudzu Vine. Every plot of untended land tends to be crawling with kudzu. They are flowering now and a week back or so there was a purple carpet lining the lane around my house after the typhoon.
The plant is of the pea family. It is native to Japan and southeast China.
Kudzu (クズ or 葛, Kuzu – it means vine in japanese), Pueraria lobata (syn. P. montana, P. thunbergiana), is one of about 20 species in the genus Pureraria in the pea family Fabaceae. The other species of Pueraria occur in southeast Asia, further south.
It is a climbing, woody or semi-woody perennial vine that can reach heights of 30 meters (98 ft) in trees. And the vines are great for making baskets as they have been used since prehistoric times in Japan. The leaves are deciduous, alternate and compound, with the leaflets may be entire or deeply 2–3 lobed, and with hairy sides. The flowers are fragrant with nectar and so are visited by many species of insects, including bees, moths, butterflies. Flowering occurs in late summer and will soon followed by brown, hairy, flattened, seed pods, each of which contains three to ten hard seeds.
The non-woody parts of the plant are edible. The young leaves can be used for salad or cooked as a deep-fried vegetable; the flowers battered and fried; and the starchy tuberous roots can be prepared as any root vegetable.
Kudzu plants grow rapidly, extending as much as 20 m per season at a rate of about 30 cm (12 in) per day.
Kudzu roots are fleshy, with massive tap roots 10–20 cm or more in diameter, 1–2 m long and weighing as much as 180 kg. As many as thirty stems may grow from a single root crown. Kudzu grows best in sunlit areas where winters do not drop below –15 °C (5 °F).
Kudzu is sometimes referred to as “the plant that ate the South” (South of USA that is – not Japan).
Here’s an interesting site to read about kudzu in the US South.