Vetiver Grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides) is a native of South India. This tough grass usually grows to one meter in height although it can grow higher and forms clumps 600 – 900 mm wide. Unlike most grasses which form spreading mat like root systems, Vetivers’ strong, fibrous, binding roots go down between four and six meters. When correctly grown as a hedge, the roots bind with the earth forming an incredibly strong interlocked underground wall, stopping ground movement and slips. The hedge spreads surface water. The massive roots and dense foliage allow controlled drainage. These roots have been described as a living wall, a living filter strip and “live nail” reinforcement.
The plant can be grown over a very wide range of climatic and soil conditions, and if planted correctly can be used virtually anywhere under tropical, semi-tropical, and Mediterranean climates. It has characteristics that are totally unique to a single species.
It can be used for a variety of things including;
Reducing Soil Erosion
Treatment of Waste Water
Producing an Essential Oil
Thatching and Weaving
Mhlalanyoni is a beautiful 10 hectare site just out of White River in Mpumalanga. Mhlalanyoni ‘the place where the bird rests’ has a long and renown heritage of conservation, sustainable environmental action and training. It was the home to the pioneer conservationist, the first woman vet in Africa, Dr Sue Hart – the original ‘Daktari.’ It was also the birthplace of Ecolink , an environmental NGO which, for over 30 years, has focused on environmental education, food security and water management.
At the farm we grow the miracle grass known as Vetiver. Dr Sue Hart was one of the pioneers, who was instrumental in bringing the grass to South Africa and promoting its benefits and use through the work that Ecolink did in community projects.
Vetiver – The Miracle Plant
The massive, fibrous Vetiver root system can penetrate up to 2 metres in the first growing season.
Vetiver is drought tolerant.
The Vetiver hedge grows up to 2 metres high and comprises of upright, rigid, dense foliage that slows the runoff which commonly causes erosion. This massive root system is likened to “living nails”, binding the soil together.
The measured maximum resistance of Vetiver roots in the soils is equivalent to one-sixth that of mild steel (75MPa) and improves shear soil strength by as much as 39%.
Closely planted Vetiver grows into dense hedgerows with a deep tough root system that can withstand flooding. A strong permanent hedge, comprising upright, rigid, dense and deeply-rooted clump grass that slows runoff, allowing sediments to stay on the site eventually forming natural terraces.
The fibrous mat of roots, strengthens earthen structures and removes many contaminants from soil and water.
The Vetiver System (VS) recommends planting 5 plants to the metre to form an effective hedge in one growing season.
Once established, a Vetiver hedge will last decades with little to no maintenance.
The Vetiver plant is a non invasive plant. it does not seed, has no stolons or rhizomes.
Vetiver has a wide variety of uses other than soil erosion and has been successfully used around the world for the following:
Water Management – Reducing the silting up of drainage systems, lakes and ponds.
Cleaning Waste Water –
Stabilizing of river banks and drains – Protection of ponds, reservoirs and riverbanks caused by wave action, by strengthening earthen dams.
Bio-remediation –Pollution control from waste and contaminants by absorbing heavy metals. Including rehabilitation and stablisation of mining areas and landfills.
Bio-engineering – Protection of structures such as roads, canals, ponds, building sites, gully rehabilitation and the stabilizing of railway tracks and preventing landslides.
No. Vetiver does not seed, sucker, or flower in any manner. It does not send out rhizomes or stolons.
How big does the plant grow?
Vetiver grows up to 2 metres high and 600mm wide, to a depth of 3 – 5 metres. The roots do not grow wider than the plant itself.
Will cattle eat Vetiver grass?
Yes. Cattle will eat the new shoots. In some countries Vetiver is grown as stock food. It is recommended to fence off new plants for 3 months, allowing the plants to firmly anchor in the ground.
Do I need to water the Vetiver once planted?
Vetiver needs watering until it is established, usually two/three weeks. If water is scarce, vetiver can be dipped into a bucket of water until saturated, prior to planting, This will reduce the need for any further watering as it is drought tolerant.
How do I maintain Vetiver?
Once planted Vetiver needs little maintenance. Cut it back in spring if the plant is accessible.
Can I take cuttings from Vetiver?
Once established, vetiver plants can be separated onto slips (individual stolon’s) with some root attached and then replanted.
The Vetiver System
The Vetiver System (VS) is a system of soil and water conservation whose main component is the use of the vetiver plant in hedgerows. It is promoted by the Vetiver Network International (TVNI), an international non-governmental organization.
The Vetiver System is used in more than 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).
The vetiver plant, Chrysopogon zizanioides, is the main component to all Vetiver System bioengineering and conservation applications. It can be used in the tropics and semi-tropics, and areas that have a Mediterranean climate where there are hot summers, and winters are temperate.
When Vetiver is planted as a hedgerow across a slope, it forms a very dense vegetative barrier that slows down and spreads rainfall runoff. Combined with a deep and strong root system, 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, the vetiver plant can be used for soil and water conservation, engineered construction site stabilization, pollution control (constructed wetlands), and other uses where soil and water come together.
The variety of Vetiver that is promoted for VS applications originates in south India, is non-fertile, non-invasive, and has to be propagated by clump subdivision. Its massive, finely structured root system can grow very fast – in some applications, rooting depth can reach 2 meters in the first year. This deep root system makes the vetiver plant very 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.
A good hedge will reduce rainfall runoff 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. It is a low-cost, labor-intensive technology claimed to have a very high benefit/cost ratio. When used for civil works protection, its cost is claimed to be about 1/20 of traditional engineered systems and designs.
The variety of Vetiver used in the Vetiver System does not have stolons or rhizomes, does not produce fertile seed, and stays where it was planted. In some countries Vetiver has even been used to define property lines. Hedgerows will not invade other areas of the property.
The Vetiver System is a developing technology. As a soil conservation technique and, more recently, a bioengineering tool, the effective application of the Vetiver System in large-scale projects that involve significant engineering design and construction requires an understanding of biology, soil science, hydraulics, hydrology, and geotechnical principles.
The Vetiver Network International (TVNI) is an international NGO, with members in over 100 countries promoting the Vetiver System (VS)for a sustainable environment particularly in relation to land and water. Its active members include people working in government, research institutions, international development agencies, NGOs and the private sector and farming communities.