A Grass by Any Other Name . . .

Monday, December 29, 2008

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To paraphrase a great thought by William Shakespeare: " A grass, by any other name, is still a grass". But sometimes the abundance of local names and misnomers given Vetiver can obscure the path to the information that we seek.

After some debate by botanists discussed in this blog under the post Is it Vetiveria or Chrysopogon?, the botanical name Chrysopogon zizanioides has prevailed. However, most of the Vetiver System literature found on the Internet was written at the time when Vetiveria zizanioides was the accepted name and may often be the most productive search term. The US Department of Agriculture also lists the name Andropogon muricatus as a synonym, but that name is never used in the context of the Vetiver System.

Local names present an additional difficulty, since these name vary widely and are generally not good search terms. I am attempting to collect these names as I come across them and I welcome your additions and corrections to this post.

The US Department of Agriculture also lists several of these common names in the Gerplasm Resources Information Network:

  • cuscus grass (also found as cous-cous and khus-khus)
  • Vetiver or Vetiver grass
  • chiendent odorant (Source: Pl Res SEAs) [French]
  • vétiver [French]
  • Vetivergras [German]
  • khas-khas [India]
  • capim-de-cheiro (also found as capim-vetiver) [Portuguese (Brazil)]
  • capim-sândalo [Portuguese (Brazil)]
  • patchuli-falso [Portuguese (Brazil)]
  • zacate violeta (also found as secate violetta) [Spanish]
The "Patchuli-falso" (False Patchouli) name seems to have provided various derivative misnomers in the Caribbean - Pachulí in the Dominican Republic and Pacholí in Puerto Rico. The true Patchouli (also patchouly or pachouli) being Pogostemon patchouli, a plant in the mint family that is also a source of aromatic oils.

Some Latin-American countries also refer to it as Pasto Vetiver. The name Arrow grass is also used in St. Kitts. A Chinese source had the name Xieng Geng Sao, but I am still looking for other Asian and African names.

As you can see, the local names are endless and with multiple spelling variations. Be sure that you are getting the right variety of Vetiver grass recommended by The Vetiver Network International for your bio-engineering projects.

Vetiver System PowerPoint Presentations

Saturday, December 27, 2008

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The Vetiver Network International (TVNI) publishes a collection of PowerPoint presentations on Vetiver grass and The Vetiver System using the eSnips file storage service. They comprise selected PowerPoints from previous Vetiver conferences. Some have Spanish captions.

These presentations may be downloaded and used for local presentations or translations.

Go to eSnips

New Certificates of Technical Excellence Awarded

Saturday, December 20, 2008

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The Vetiver Network International (TVNI) just awarded several of its members a series of well-deserved Certificates of Technical Excellence. The purpose of “Certification of Technical Excellence” is twofold:
  1. Recognition of high quality work and demonstration of a high level of knowledge in specific areas of the Vetiver System technology
  2. Classification of the certified person and the relevant area of excellence in order to make it easier for potential clients to know what area of excellence the certified person has actually achieved and has capability.
I am pleased to report that my nursery, my clients, and this blog were instrumental in this TVNI Certificate of Technical Excellence for "Vetiver Propagation and nursery management, soil conservation, and Vetiver information dissemination." I thank you all, clients and readers, for your support and participation.

We also congratulate our friends and colleagues accross the world on their certifications. The complete 2008 list includes:



Class 1: Qualified in at least three areas of specific applications.

Doug Richardson
- California, USA
Vetiver Propagation and Nursery Management, Slope Stabilization, Landscaping and agriculture
Mary Noah Manarang
- Philippines
Propagation, erosion control, slope stabilization, and contaminated land rehabilitation

Roley Noffke
- South Africa
Propagation, erosion control, slope stabilization, rehabilitation of contaminated lands, and vetiver community involvement
.

Class 2: Qualified in at least two areas of specific applications.

Norman Vant Hoff - Indonesia
Vetiver Propagation and Nursery Management, Waste Water Management and Pollution Control

Yoann Coppin
- Madagascar
Vetiver propagation and nursery management, slope stabilization, and vetiver community involvement.

Don Miller
- New Zealand
Erosion control, watershed conservation, propagation and comunity involvement
.

Marco Forti
- Italy
Vetiver propagation and nursery management, erosion control, other uses, soil conservation and vetiver information dissemination.

Alberto Rodriguez
- Puerto Rico, USA
Vetiver Propagation and nursery management, soil conservation, and vetiver information dissemination.

Mary Wikowski - Hawaii, USA
Vetiver Propagation and nursery management, soil conservation, and vetiver information dissemination.


Note: Information relating to obtaining a Certificate of Technical Excellence is contained in this document. The complete list of certified persons worldwide is here.

Jamaica - Caribbean All-Hazards Conference Presentation

Thursday, December 18, 2008

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Yeah, Man! I just returned from Jamaica, after having delivered a presentation on the Vetiver System to the 2008 Caribbean All-Hazards Conference attendees. Dick Grimshaw, the founder and chairman of The Vetiver Network International had been invited to deliver this talk but, unable to attend himself, he asked me to fill-in for him. The conference took place at the Rose Hall Resort in Montego Bay from December 15th to the 17th.

Stepping into Dick’s shoes is a scary prospect, and having to represent The Vetiver Network in front of an audience of disaster management and mitigation professionals was a daunting proposition. This conference was directed at emergency management personnel, researchers, private sector property management (hotels, large businesses, etc.), media personnel, educators, political leaders, economic sector officials (tourism, agriculture, housing, etc.), and other persons working with managing impacts of hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding and other hazards.

Flying to Jamaica to talk about grass is as improbable as driving to the North Pole to teach snowball making - you try telling that story to an immigration official at the Jamaica airport! Still, armed with Dick’s excellent presentation material (with a few tweaks of my own) I stepped on the podium on Monday for my 11:30 a.m. presentation – at 12:15 p.m. My little Vetiver hedge being the only barrier between this group of hazard veterans and their lunch had all the makings of another Caribbean disaster.

The barrage of questions at the end of my talk was evidence that grass had taken a new meaning in the Caribbean. Many hallway, lunch, and Jamaica Delight cocktail meetings later, I had promises of pilot projects in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and others. Organizing key players into a Caribbean Vetiver Network is now a real possibility that I will start working on.

The conference was very successful in bringing together government agencies, academic institutions, and private sector for information exchange, dialogue, and development of methods and practice to reduce the harmful impacts of hazards and disasters in the Caribbean Region.

A Vetiver Caribbean Network is now being organized to provide a central site for the information exchange and networking among persons interested in Vetiver grass technology in the Caribbean. Visit the Google discussion group site and join if you are part of that group.

Vetiver has an important role to play in that context, and Puerto Rico is a strong contender for hosting next year’s event – something I really look forward to . . . stay tuned.

Client Profile - Quarry Island Cove Demonstration Project , Oklahoma, USA

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The Poteau Valley Improvement Authority (PVIA) provides water to most of rural LeFlore County in eastern Oklahoma. The source of that water is Wister Lake, a reservoir constructed by the US Corps of Engineers in 1949. Over the last several decades the lake has become highly eutrophic* due to large inputs of phosphorus and sediment from its watershed. Besides the negative effects on lake ecology, this increases the costs of treating the water for drinking and other uses.

In the summer of 2008, PVIA received a matching grant from the U. S. A. EPA through the Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment's office to assist in the development of the Quarry Island Cove Demonstration Project. Named for the cove on in which PVIA's water intake is located, the project has two components: aeration and floating wetlands. Twenty-five fine bubble aerators were placed on the bottom of the lake covering approximately 4.5 acres adjacent to the water system intake. Rising air bubbles cause the water to circulate and circulation increases the dissolved oxygen content of the water. This reduces phosphorus release from lake sediments, oxidizes metals in the lake rather than in the treatment plant, provides an oxygen refuge for fish and other aquatic life, and decreases the growth of cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae) that can cause taste and odor problems.

To complement the circulation and increased oxygen, 16 floating wetland rafts were constructed. Each raft is approximately 4' x 10' and built of HDPE pipe for flotation and a coir mattress that serves as the supporting matrix for the plants. Five of the rafts were planted with Vetiver from Agriflora's nursery, and the rest were planted with a suite of native wetland species collected locally. PVIA is monitoring the growth and survival of the plants to determine which species will perform best. One test for the Vetiver will be how well it survives the Oklahoma winter. So far, Vetiver is showing the best growth, both of plant tops and, more importantly, of roots. Cattails are second to Vetiver, but late season harvesting by beaver has been destructive to cattails but not Vetiver.

Wetland plants growing on the rafts will remove nutrients from the water. In addition, the underwater root surface area will be colonized by bacteria and algae that will also remove nutrients. These microbial and algal biofilms will be fed upon by zooplankton, and the zooplankton by fish, thereby creating an alternative food web and nutrient cycle which should further reduce nutrient concentrations in the water.

Based on the successful construction and growth of the first set of floating wetlands this past summer, PVIA staff are constructing 32 additional rafts this winter for installation next spring. This will triple the number of installed wetlands. Half of the new rafts will be planted with Vetiver. Monitoring of dissolved oxygen levels, plant growth, and nutrient concentrations will be conducted throughout the 2009 growing season.

The design and implementation of this visionary application is in the capable hands of Steve Patterson, a consultant practicing restoration ecology through his firm Bio X Design. Steve's excellent Ecosystem Design blog is excellent reading on novel ecological ideas

Notes on photos: The photos were taken in September after about 3 months growth. The blobs on the rafts in the roots photo are freshwater bryozoa, a filter feeding colonial animal. Vetiver Photo credits: Steve Patterson, Bio x Design.

Another excellent picture and additional information can be found on this article from the Tulsa World newspaper from August 2008. We will continue to follow this project and report on its future progress.

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* eutrophic - result of the process by which a body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (as phosphates) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen (Merriam-Webster)

Keeping the Fianarantsoa Railway Steaming Ahead, Madagascar

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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In the past, the Fianarantsoa Railway Line used to be closed for months most years on account of damage done by cyclones. This railway stretches for 200 Km. in Madagascar. All this landslide sediment eventually reaches and pollutes downstream waters. After extensive rehabilitation and stabilization along the rail line using Vetiver grass, the railroad has not been closed again when hit by tropical storms

In stabilizing the railway cuts with Vetiver grass special social issues had to
be taken into account. Farmers cropped along the right of way and they could not be removed. So, farmers were given a long-term right of occupancy of the land in return for their involvement. With some training, farmers adopted cropping models that combined crops with Vetiver hedges.

To stop fu
ture landslides, the slopes in these pictures had to be replanted with Vetiver hedges using the new farming models. This image shows the combination of the Vetiver System and farm crops. In many cases, local communities must be involved with planning and executing these types of programs if they are to be successful.

The travel article, Making Tracks in the Jungle, from the British publication
The Observer, briefly mentions the Vetiver plantings. It is, otherwise, an interesting story on the adventure of train travel in Madagascar.

Why Vetiver Grass is the Ideal Plant . . .

Sunday, November 30, 2008

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We all like nicely organized bullet lists to highlight and explain a subject. So, when I found this page in the book Vetiver Grass: The Hedge Against Erosion published by The World Bank in 1987, I knew that I had to share it with you. Over time, I will be touching on all these reasons on different articles, but this list makes a nice summary of why we are such fanatics of this plant.

Why Vetiver Grass is the ideal plant for The Vegetative System of Soil and Moisture Conservation, Earth Structure Stabilization, and Environmental Rehabilitation

Although many grasses and trees have been tried over the years as measures to prevent erosion, to date only Vetiver grass has stood the test of time. As made clear by the following list of its characteristics -derived from observations of Vetiveria zizanioides throughout the world - this truly remarkable plant is ideally suited for the vegetative system of soil and moisture conservation, earth structure (i.e. roads) stabilization, and environmental rehabilitation. No other grass is known to rival its hardiness or diversity.

  • When planted correctly (i.e., close together), Vetiveria zizanioides will quickly form a dense, permanent hedge.
  • It has a strong fibrous root system that penetrates and binds the soil to a depth of up to 3 meters and can withstand the effects of tunneling and cracking.
  • Stiff and erect sterns, which form dense hedges, can stand up to relatively deep water flow which reduces flow velocity and traps sediment.
  • It is perennial and. requires minimal maintenance.
  • It is practically sterile, and because it produces no stolons or rhizomes it will not become a weed.
  • Its crown is below the surface, which protects the plant against fire and overgrazing.
  • Its sharp leaves and aromatic roots repel rodents, snakes, and similar pests.
  • Its leaves and roots have demonstrated a resistance to most diseases.
  • Once established, it is generally unpalatable to livestock. The young leaves, however, are palatable and can be used for fodder. (In Karnataka, India, a cultivar of Vetiveria zizanioides selected by farmers has softer leaves and is more palatable to livestock. This cultivar is also denser, less woody, and more resistant to drought than some of the other available cultivars.)
  • It is both a xerophyte and a hydrophyte, and once established it can withstand drought, flood, and long periods of water logging.
  • It will not compete with the crop plants it is used to protect. Vetiver grass hedges have been shown to have no negative effect on - and may in fact boost-the yield of neighboring food crops.
  • It is cheap and easy to establish as a hedge and to maintain - as well as to remove if it is no longer wanted.
  • Highly tolerant to a growing medium high in acidity, alkalinity or salinity
  • Highly tolerant to AI, Mn, As, Cd, Cr, Ni, Pb, Hg, Se and Zn in the soils.
  • High level of tolerance to herbicides and pesticides.
  • Highly efficient in absorbing dissolved N, P, Hg, Cd and Pb in polluted water.
  • It will grow in all types of soil textures; this includes sand, shale, and gravel.
  • It will grow in a wide range of climates. It is known to grow in areas with average annual rainfall between 200 and 6,000 millimeters and with temperatures ranging from -15 degC to 55 degC.
  • It is a climax plant, and even when all surrounding plants have been destroyed by drought, flood, pests, disease, fire, or other adversity, the vetiver will remain to protect the ground from the onslaught of the next rains.
I believe that this book is out of print, but other more current books are available through links in the right hand column of this blog.

Vetiver Plants - the "Default" Technology

Monday, November 24, 2008

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Dick Grimshaw, the founder and chairman of The Vetiver Network, wrote in a message in the Vetiver System Google Group a very simple, and focused perspective on the merits and the problems of Vetiver. Whether you are a Vetiver veteran or you are "Joe the Plumber" planting your first plug, this message is for you:

Magic grass, silver bullet, wonder grass, miracle grass – these are all adjectives that other people have ascribed to Vetiver.

Every user has different expectations of this plant. Most often these expectations are achieved in very significant and positive ways – hence the accolades. We don’t often hear of failure – undoubtedly there are failures, but most times they are insignificant compared to the successes; and when there is failure it is not the fault of the plant but most often that of the person who planted it.

Although there may be other biological solutions that may be better than the Vetiver solution in dealing with a specific problem and condition, they remain few and far between. The uniqueness of The Vetiver System is first its wide range of application under very varying conditions, and secondly its wide range of problem mitigation use. Thus, the basic Vetiver System comprising of a Vetiver plants hedgerow is a technology that has far wider application than any other single biological alternative.

This breadth of application feature should give the Vetiver System a distinct advantage especially as the technology is low cost, relatively simple to use, and most times effective. It is not difficult to train people in Vetiver propagation and application.

Diti Henchaovanich of Thailand did not give Vetiver the name of “soil nail” just for the heck of it – rather he saw the long-term function of Vetiver as an indispensable living “nail” to hold soil together, just as a carpenter needs wire nails as an essential construction item. I call it nature’s “band aid”

Some years ago I visited Honduras, and I noticed that nearly every rural household had a clump of Vetiver in their back yard for medicinal purposes. In the future, every household in tropical countries should have Vetiver in their back yard to be used as needed as a tool or measure for home and farm land repair and protection and for waste water treatment. Every community (in the broadest sense) should have access to its own or other supply source (preferably private sector) of Vetiver to mitigate local land and water needs that fall under community jurisdiction. Whenever there is a problem concerning land and water, Vetiver should be the “default” technology that users turn to. Only after rejection for unsuitability should an alternative option be considered.

It would not be difficult to get to this stage if government, non-government organizations, development agencies, and private sector policy makers and administrators at various levels were to take appropriate action. I believe that, if this approach were to be taken, there would be a chance of making significant gain in improving the quality of land and water resources across the board through community driven micro programs and private sector actions.

I could not agree more with Dick's perspective on the merits of the plant, and his "call to action" has to be passed down the line. Getting more acceptance from the "official" power centers, will not happen until many more local success stories are evident and they reach national and international visibility. I welcome your stories and pictures for publication in this blog. Help us spread the word . . .

Vetiver Oil - The Oil of Tranquility

Thursday, November 20, 2008

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Vetiver grass is known for its perfumery and medicinal value since ancient times, much before the world became familiar with rose scents. It yields an exotic oil, known as The Oil of Tranquillity in the East. The annual world trade in Vetiver oil is estimated to be around 250 tons, with Haiti, Indonesia (Java), China, India, Brazil, and Japan being the main producers, and USA, Europe, India, and Japan being the main consumers.

The essential oil distilled from the roots of Vetiver, is one of the most complex mixtures of sesquiterpene alcohols and hydrocarbons, and also one of the most viscous oils with an extremely slow rate of volatility. The slow evaporation rate of Vetiver oil coupled with its pleasant aroma makes it a perfume by itself. Its high solubility in alcohol that improves its miscibility with other perfumery material makes it unique perfume resource, for which no synthetic substitute is yet available. The essential oil produced in different countries possesses distinct odor notes – Reunion (Bourbon) and Haitian oil with roseate note is highly regarded in perfumery industry, but the Vetiver (Khus) oil obtained from wild ‘Khus’ roots in India is considered to be the best for its balsamic woody note.

Some fragrances whose distinctive notes would not be possible without Vetiver include: Guerlain’s ‘Vetiver’ – Chanel’s ‘Coco’ – Christian Dior’s ‘Miss Dior’ – Yves St. Laurent’s ‘Opium’ – Givenchy’s ‘Ysatis.

Pure Vetiver Oil is available at
Amazon

Additiona information about the oil and its industry:

Australia - Landfill Leachate Disposal

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

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Stotts Creek Landfill is a major waste depot in Australia. Disposal of leachate is a major concern as the landfill site is close to agricultural areas. An effective and low cost leachate disposal system was needed, particularly during summer high rainfall season.

Vetiver grass has a very high water use and nutrient uptake rates, and it is tolerant to elevated levels of heavy metals and other adverse conditions. It is very well suited for effluent and leachate disposal. Leachate quality at Stotts Creek Landfill is low in heavy metals but relatively high in salts and nutrients.

Currently leachate and runoff from the landfill site are stored in ponds at the foot of the mound. During dry periods the leachate is irrigated onto the top of the completed waste mound where it evaporates or transpires into the atmosphere. During heavy rainfall the leachate overflows into a system of wetlands and then to a local creek. Following capping and topsoiling, Vetiver grass has been planted on the surface of the completed waste mound and irrigated with leachate from collecting ponds. Results to date have been excellent. Full details can be found here.

A System To Mitigate Storm Damage and Control Water Pollution

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This excellent 4-page color fact sheet titled " The Vetiver System's Role In the Gulf Coast Region: Infrastructure Protection & Comprehensive Water Pollution Control" can be downloaded and printed by everyone. Use it to introduce your friends and neighbors to the Vetiver System, or post in school or office bulletin boards to share with your community. It is published by The Vetiver Netork International as a PDF file that you can download here and keep on your computer.

Where is Agriflora Tropicals?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

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Since 1989, Agriflora Tropicals has been  the leading grower of vetiver plants in Puerto Rico. Previously located in the highest elevation of the municipality of Guayama and nearly surrounded by Lake Carite, we are now, since 2015, relocated to the municipality of Aguas Buenas. We are also the only commercial Vetiver grass nursery in the Caribbean.

From its nursery, right on the farm, we serve landscapers and contractors looking for quality vetiver plants for landscaping and conservation projects. Our large Vetiver grass production has been used in numerous projects both on the island and in the USA mainland.


Client Profile - Vetiver vs. Ike, Texas, USA

Monday, November 10, 2008

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Warren from Texas shared these pictures and comments with me a few days after hurricane Ike devastated the Galveston area. This first picture and others at Picasa show Warren's year-old hedges of Vetiver grass at his property on Trinity Bay, the northeast portion of Galveston Bay.

With about 500 plants already in the ground protecting and recovering his coastline, Warren ordered an additional 500 plants from Agriflora that he received about three weeks before Ike - and had not been planted at Trinity yet. Although he had done an excellent job with the planning and planting, he did not feel that he had the coverage to resist a severe hurricane event. Fortunately, he was wrong. He sent me the second picture on Octobrer 8 with these comments:
"This picture was taken two weeks after Hurricane Ike on the East side of Trinity Bay just about 1500 linear feet from North of Oak Island Community which had about 95% total devastation. There is cord grass that survived Spring planting and along the top of the bank is Vetiver grass. This grass was under water 24 hours before the tidal surge of 17 feet hit on high tide around 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning September 13th, 2008. The Vetiver grass tops are somewhat burnt but all of it survived.
"Three weeks prior to Hurricane Ike, I planted 500 sprigs of Vetiver in a bed of topsoil next to my house that had over four feet of water in it and much destruction due to the tidal surge. They were strong enough that I only lost a few, and that was due to a boat and some tree limbs falling on top of them. I removed the debris and I bet that the plants will still make it. The other 96 Vetiver plants that I had planted in various areas around the house are also alive and well.
"If this is not a testimony to Vetiver, I don't know what is!"
In spite of the devastating winds and storm surge, Warren's plants did an amazing job of conserving his coastline. Personally, I see very little difference in the before and after pictures. This round goes to the Vetiver.

Madagascar - The Ilmenite Project

Sunday, November 9, 2008

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Hydromulch (Pty) Ltd has been involved in a major sand fixing, erosion control and slope stabilisation undertaking along newly constructed roads at the Rio Tinto/QMM Ilmenite Project at Fort Dauphin in Madagascar. Wind blown sand was a major issue and a decision was made to use barrier netting and Vetiver grass hedgerows as erosion control protection on the slopes of the excavated Ehoala dune areas, prior to hydroseeding with local grass species.

It was estimated that the erosion control and vegetation reinstatement programme as a whole would require about two million Vetiver plants! The complete story with many valuable photographs was published in the July/August 2008 issue of Environmental Management and can be found here.

Weed Potential of Vetiver Grass

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Vetiver grass cultivars originating in southern India are known for their large and strong root systems. They do not produce viable seed and will not become an invasive plant in their new environment. These cultivars have to be established vegetatively by root subdivisions since they do not produce stolons or rhizomes that could cause lateral spread.

The north Indian accessions, common to the Ganges and Indus basins, are wild and have weaker root systems. These accessions are diploids and are known to be weedy, though not necessarily invasive. These north Indian accessions are NOT recommended under the Vetiver System as a method of soil and water conservation.

The ideal cultivar in the USA is known as “Sunshine” and has been widely used in all southern states, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. A cultivar of the same genotype, the “Monto”, is extensively used in Australia.

The question about Vetiver's potential invasiveness always comes up when a new project is planned. We at Agriflora Tropicals have been working with Vetiver in Puerto Rico for over 15 years, and we use it extensively in our own farm to control erosion problems and we have never seen any evidence of invasive behavior from our Sunshine cultivar. Our experience confirms this evidence from the PIER (Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk) Risk Assessment that Vetiver grass has a very low risk factor of minus 8. Even the most stringent countries will allow imports of plants with a plus 1 risk assessment.

Vetiver as a Termite Repellant

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This article from the August 22, 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal discusses the work done by Louisiana State University professor Gregg Henderson. An entomologist at LSU's AgCenter, Dr. Henderson is interested in Vetiver's ability to repel subterranean termites, including the rapacious Formosan species that is devouring much of New Orleans. His studies have convinced him Vetiver would be ideal for reinforcing the city's protective floodwall system, fighting erosion and discouraging termite infestations that he believes have weakened the levees and even eating the seam-filling material used in the concrete dike walls.

But the Army Corps of Engineers has so far shunned the grass for what many believe to be its greatest use: erosion control. While Vetiver can't survive in colder northern climates, devotees argue the grass is ideally suited to help protect hurricane-prone coastal areas in the South.

Vetiver’s use as a termite repellant and barrier has been extensively observed and documented in African and Asian countries. Over the years, Dr. Henderson and other scientists pinpointed a chemical in Vetiver roots called nootkatone that's toxic to many insects, including termites. Several patents later, Dr. Henderson is conducting more experiments to prove his theory that Vetiver grass can form an effective barrier to subterranean termites, and that it can thrive in a salty Gulf Coast environment. Read the complete article in The Wall Street Journal, Found in the Weeds: Bug Scientist Touts Cure for Levee Leaks for additional details on Dr. Gregg Henderson’s research.

Chile - Riverbank Stabilization Project

Friday, November 7, 2008

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Bioingenieria Wallace, a well-known bioengineering firm of Santiago, Chile, reports on a riverbank stabilization project using Vetiver grass bioengineering in conjunction with traditional gavions.

The project, in Southern Chile, was realized with the assistance of
Paul Truong, the Vetiver Network Director for Asia and the Pacific. The Bío Bío River Basin project was funded by Ministry of Public Works of Chile and The Chilean Technological Innovation Fund.

The document, found here, stresses the importance of using well established plants as opposed to bare-root cutting in order to obtain good results in the shortest time. Our nursery,
Agriflora Tropicals, produces similar well-rooted plants by propagating plants in reusable plastic trays, therefore avoiding the plastic waste of polybags.

Vetiver Photo Galleries

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It is said that a photo is worth a thousand words . . . so a thousand photos must be worth a fortune!

The Vetiver Network International publishes two huge collections of photos from around the world that speak for themselves about the many successful installations of the grass and its other amazing applications.

These collections are kept in Picasa albums and can be found by clicking on these titles:
Agriflora Tropicals hosts a photo album as well that we will continue to grow over time:
Will your album be there some day?

The Vetiver Discussion Groups

Thursday, November 6, 2008

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International Discussion Group in English

If you wo
uld like to participate or read a discussion group where international Vetiver industry heavies share acomplishments, ideas and concers, visit The Vetiver System Discussion Group at Google. This group managed by The Vetiver Network International has the discussions in English.

The Vetiver
Caribbean Network
This Google Group called The Vetiver Caribbean Network is the discussion group for the exchange of information and experiences related to the use of Vetiver grass and the Vetiver System in the Caribbean Region.
La Red Vetiver Latina


Para los lectores de habla hispana, se esta organizando un nuevo grupo de discusiones para unificar las experiencias y conocimientos de los profesionales latinoamericanos de esta industria. Este grupo en Google, se publica en español (y posiblemente portugues). Puede solicitar membresia en La Red Vetiver Latina.

Client Profile - Christiansted Bypass, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, USA

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Christiansted, the capital of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is getting a new major road south of the city, linking the east and west ends of town. The project, which has been in the planning stages since the mid 1970's is aimed at relieving traffic congestion, improving safety and restricting large vehicles currently driving through the downtown Christiansted area.

The Federal Highway Administration is funding the 1.21 mile project, which will cost an estimated $20 million. The project received the federal construction funds along with the specification to “sprig” with Vetiver grass. Full specs were provided by the federal government including row separation of six feet and sprig separation of 4” to 6”. Virgin Islands Paving has been the main contractor on this project with Kirkland Construction working on a smaller segment.

Throughout 2008, our farm, Agriflora Tropicals, provided the Vetiver plants for this project. In total, nearly 68,000 plants were shipped and planted along the road banks. Pictures taken by a USDA Field Engineer from Puerto Rico visiting the project, attest to the contractor’s success with the planting. Agriflora Tropicals is providing greenhouse-grown plants with over 4” roots that can be economically shipped in boxes via cargo ferry from Puerto Rico.

You can see more pictures of this project in this Picasa album. Our plants are available for sale from our Agriflora Tropicals store or directly from our nursery for larger projects.



Vetiver Grass Project - Christiansted, St. Croix Bypass Road

Cold Weather Tolerance of Vetiver Grass

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

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The Vetiver System Applications Technical Reference Manual states in section 2.4:
"Although Vetiver is a tropical grass, it can survive and thrive under extremely cold conditions. Under frost conditions its top growth dies back or becomes dormant and ‘purple’ in color, but its underground growing points survive. In Australia, Vetiver growth was not affected by severe frost at –14ºC (7ºF) and it survived for a short period at -22ºC (-8ºF) in northern China. In Georgia (USA), Vetiver survived in soil temperature of -10ºC (14ºF) but not at –15ºC (5ºF). Recent research showed that 25ºC (77ºF) was optimal soil temperature for root growth, but Vetiver roots continued to grow at 13ºC (56ºF). Although very little shoot growth occurred at the soil temperature range of 15ºC (59ºF) (day) and 13ºC (56ºF) root growth continued at the rate of 12.6cm/day, indicating that Vetiver grass was not dormant at this temperature and extrapolation suggested that root dormancy occurred at about 5ºC (41ºF).”
Some additional comments on this subject can be found in this page at The Vetiver Network Blog

In summary, it all depends on temperature. If the soil is permanently frozen in winter the grass will be killed. However, it will survive a sporadic snowfall.

Is it Vetiveria or Chrysopogon?

Monday, November 3, 2008

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A frequent source of confusion among users of Vetiver grass is finding some documents and references giving the plant’s scientific name as Vetiveria zizanioides and others using the name Chrysopogon zizanioides. They are one and the same.

For over a century Vetiver had been known as Vetiveria zizanioides (L.) Nash. The letter L. in brackets referring to Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist that got the science of taxonomy started as an organized way to classify plant and animal names. Between 1903 and 1906, Nash and Stapf settled on Vetiveria zizanioides as the proper classification of Vetiver.

In 1999 a Dutch plant taxonomist named J. F. Veldkamp confirmed that there were no significant morphological differences between the genus Chrysopogon and the genus Vetiveria. Since the name Chrysopogon had been used first, and based on the principle of botanical priority, Veldkamp reluctantly renamed all the grasses in the Vetiveria genus into Chrysopogon.

Given the extensive bibliography of literature that refers to Vetiver as Vetiveria zizanioides, that name will continue to be widely used. The common name, Vetiver, derived from a Tamil (India) word meaning “the grass that is dug out”, is not endangered and will be used by all the educational and commercial sites for Vetiver grass.

When searching the web for Vetiver information, searching for “vetiver grass” will exclude links to perfumes, oils, and musical groups.

How do I use The Vetiver System?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

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When used in the role of soil conservation and slope stabilization, Vetiver provides a simple and economical method to bind the soil with a deep and massive finely-structured root system. Vetiver roots are, per unit area, stronger and deeper than tree roots.
A well planned conservation project must follow three fundamental rules for laying out the plants:

1. Plants must always be set in continuous hedges following surface contours. The hedge should provide an even barrier to the surface water flow, and create a filter that will retain the soil and allow the water to pass at a reduced speed. An improperly leveled hedge could direct the water flow to its lowest elevation, resulting in increased soil losses in that location.

2. New plants should be set at a separation of 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) within the hedge. The most effective way to start a new hedge is by using small, well-rooted plants that have been grown in a healthy, pest-free environment. A good root system in the new plant will ensure nearly 100% survivability and kick-start the project by 2 to 3 months.

Alternatively, a bundle of three tillers (growing root segments), called a slip, can be planted directly on the soil every 4 inches (10 cm). Bare-root slips have a very high mortality when planted in poor soils, and this method is only viable when a large supply of mature plants is available for division. Allow for an additional three months of project completion when using this method. Vetiver hedges are fully effective only when plants form closed hedgerows. Gaps within clumps must be quickly replanted with new or relocated plants.

3. Multiple hedges may be required to stabilize a slope. A single hedge at the top of the slope is usually not enough to stabilize a slope, and does nothing for surface soil erosion. Multiple rows are required, and the separation between them will depend on the slope angle, soil type, and the current erosion/stability conditions. There is no magic formula to determine the proper row separation in a new project. The Vetiver Systems Applications – Technical Reference Manual provides some guidelines in section 3.9:
  • a 30° slope requires six plants per square meter (i.e. 7-10 plants per linear meter) and a distance between rows of about 5.7 feet (1.7 meter).
  • a 45° slope requires 10 plants per square meter (i.e. 7-10 plants per linear meter) and a distance between rows of about 3 feet (1 meter).
Warning: The Vetiver System is a new technology. As a new technology, its principles must be studied and applied appropriately for best results. Failure to follow basic tenets will result in disappointment, or worse, adverse results. As a soil conservation technique and, more recently, a bioengineering tool, the effective application of the Vetiver System requires an understanding of biology, soil science, hydraulics, hydrology, and geotechnical principles. Therefore, for large-scale projects that involve significant engineering design and construction, the Vetiver System is best implemented by experienced specialists rather than by local people themselves. Get professional assistance when appropriate.

Note: Photos are from stabilization work done at the Blackberry Eco-lodge in India. Click here to see more on the great work they did.

Vegetative Soil Stabilization - a General Guide

Saturday, November 1, 2008

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As seen in the picture from Thailand at left, the basic technique of soil stabilization using Vetiver consists of one or more hedgerows planted on the contour. Nursery plants or slips (clumps) of about 3 tillers each, are typically planted 6 inches (15 cm) apart on the contour to create, when mature, a barrier of stiff grass that acts as a buffer and spreader of down slope water flow, and a filter to sediment. Multiple hedgerows may be required to stabilize a slope.

Vetiver grass does not have stolons or rhizomes. Its massive, finely structured root system can grow very fast - in some applications, rooting depth can reach 10-12 ft (3-4 m) in the first year. This deep root system makes the Vetiver plant extremely drought tolerant and difficult to dislodge by strong current. It also has stiff and erect stems, which can stand up to relatively deep water flow. New shoots will develop from the underground crown, making Vetiver resistant to fire, frosts, traffic and heavy grazing pressure. Vetiver Grass is not affected to any significant extent by pests and diseases, nor does it act as a host for pests or diseases that might attack crop or garden plants.

The development of strong plants and a deep root system requires full sun. Partial shading stunts its growth, and significant shading can eliminate it in the long term by reducing its ability to compete with more shade-tolerant species.

When multiple hedgerows are required, each row must be planted with the same separation of 6 inches
(15 cm) between plants. The separation between rows will depend on the slope, soil condition and composition, and the severity of the problem. As a rule of thumb, typical distances in domestic environment should range between three and six feet. Some published guidelines recommend a distance between rows of about 5.7 ft. (1.7 m) for a 30° slope, and about 3 ft. (1 m) for a 45° slope.

A good hedge will reduce rainfall run off by as much as 70% and sediment by as much as 90%. A hedgerow will stay where it is planted and the sediment that is spread out behind the hedgerow gradually accumulates to form a long lasting terrace with Vetiver protection. It is a very low cost, labor intensive technology with very high benefit/cost ratio. When used for civil works protection, its cost is about 1/20 of traditional engineered systems and designs. Engineers compare the Vetiver root to a "Living Soil Nail" with an average tensile strength of 1/6 of mild steel. Vetiver hedges are fully effective only when plants form closed hedgerows. Gaps between clumps should be timely re-planted.

A very important characteristic of the "domesticated" Vetiver varieties from southern India used in The Vetiver System is that it does not produce seed and stays where it was planted. In some countries Vetiver has even been used to define property lines and hedgerows will not invade other areas of the property. Vetiver hedges are a natural, soft bioengineering technique - an eco-friendly alternative to rigid or hard structures. Being vegetative, it is also visually acceptable in any neighborhood.
A very comprehensive publication from The Vetiver Network International can be found here: Vetiver System for erosion and sediment control

What is Vetiver Grass?

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Vetiver grass is the key element in a low cost and efficient system, used in nearly 100 countries, for soil and water conservation, infrastructure stabilization, pollution control, waste water treatment, mitigation and rehabilitation, sediment control, prevention of storm damage and many other environmental protection applications (through bioengineering and phytoremediation).

This grass is the main component to all
Vetiver System bioengineering and conservation applications. The plant is unique. It can be used in the tropics and semi tropics, and areas that have a Mediterranean type climate where there are hot summers, and winters are temperate.

The cultivated variety of
Vetiveria zizanioides, with its center of origin in southern India, has hydrophytic characteristics, but thrives under upland non-wetland conditions.

The very basis of
The Vetiver System (VS) is that when Vetiver grass is planted as a hedgerow across a slope, it forms a very dense barrier that slows down and spreads rainfall runoff. Pretty simple!!! Then combine this with a very deep and strong root system (average tensile strength of 75 Mpa), a wide range of pH tolerance from about pH 3 to pH 11, a high tolerance to most heavy metals, an ability to remove from soil and water large quantities of excess nitrates, phosphates and farm chemicals, and an attribute of sterility and non-invasiveness, we have a plant that, with some modifications to its application, can be used for soil and water conservation, engineered construction site stabilization, pollution control (constructed wetlands), and most other uses where soil and water come together.

The species of
Vetiveria zizanioides, that is promoted for VS applications originates in south India, is non-fertile, non-invasive, and has to be propagated by clump subdivision. In 1999, however, there was a change of the generic name of Vetiver into Chrysopogon. This has given rise to a new scientific name of Vetiver as Chrysopogon zizanioides (L.) Roberty.

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