If you're from the South, you're undoubtedly acquainted with kudzu, and if not, you probably at least know it as the vine that ate the South. Calling it a jewel may seem like blasphemy, but in the 1930s kudzu was promoted as the vine that would cure the South. What, you ask? How can that be?
Kudzu is a legume. And like most legumes it has the ingenious ability to transform nitrogen from a gas in the air to a form that plants can absorb from the soil. Nitrogen makes up 79 percent of the atmosphere, but is scarce in the soil and plants are reliant on it to grow lush and green. This alchemy is why farmers and gardeners have used beans and other legumes to enrich their soil for thousands of years. When the USDA found the mother of all legumes in eastern Asia — kudzu — they thought it would be the perfect remedy for the South's impoverished soils.
There were huge publicity campaigns advertising its virtues and government assistance was available to landowners to help them plant as much as possible. Two hundred years of cotton-based agriculture had been very hard on the land and after the boll weevil wiped out the industry, kudzu was proposed to nurse the eroded red clay back to health. The literature said it would grow 50 feet in a year, create fertile topsoil within a decade and that your livestock would grow fat on it in the meantime. All these claims were actually true, but they failed to understand the one drawback: you can't get rid of it.