Friday, September 3, 2010

Vetiver hedges, neat and trim(med)!

All of us recognize Vetiver's effectiveness in many applications. It's certainly a workhorse! However, while appreciating Vetiver's subterranean abilities, some customers want their new resource to be smart AND beautiful--all the time! Vetiver in neatly trimmed hedges presents itself as a lovely ornamental, and it can easily be maintained as such.

Posting his review of a particularly sharp hedge trimmer, a law professor in LA reported: "We had a problem. We planted 500 running feet of Vetiver grass for hillside retention. Vetiver is great for bio-engineering, in our case retaining a steep hillside, but when Vetiver is fully established, we found it too tough to cut with a Fiskars hedge shears. So we tried a power hedge trimmer, which broke the grass instead of cutting it cleanly. Then we discovered that the Japanese make hedge shears with really sharp blades. So we ordered this ARS model (ARS 28- to 41-1/2-Inch Hedge Shears HS-K900Z, Ed.). The blades are razor-sharp. The tool is light; the handles are excellent. And best of all, the shears did a great job on our Vetiver hedges."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Saipan uses Vetiver to protect its reefs!

According to our friends at the Saipan Tribune, "fifteen volunteers from three groups, along with staff from the Division of Environmental Quality and Coastal Resources Management Office, spent Saturday morning planting 90 plants within the Laolao Revegetation Project site.

The Volunteer Planting Day was part of a continuing restoration effort, started in 2005, to help reduce soil erosion, which causes sediment to wash into Laolao Bay and damage its coral reefs.

The Laolao Revegetation Project intends to plant over 1,000 saplings and 2,500 linear feet of Vetiver throughout the upland planting area. This volunteer tree planting was a way to show the community how important these projects are for Saipan.

DEQ Field Coordinator Nick Swaim demonstrated proper planting techniques and fertilizer placement. Six native plant species were used, propagated by DLNR Forestry at its nursery in Kagman.

Volunteers from the community included members from Teen Talk, NMC's Phi Theta Kappa, and NMC's Environmental Natural Resources Organization. The volunteers carried plants and tools as they hiked up to the planting site. Along the way they passed rows of Vetiver propagated at CREES Agriculture that had been planted by Tropical Gardens Landscapers. The planting was spread across two of the 16 sites in the project area. Fortunately, the volunteers were able to plant in the sites that boast the best views of the bay.

Volunteer Lorremel Hocog said, 'It was a fun exercise, and I'm doing it for a good cause. So it's worth every effort, and the view is amazing.'"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vetiver's a beach- and coral-saving green shield!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This just in from our friends in Bangalore, India.

Alarmed by the rapid degradation of the coastal ecosystem and the potential danger it poses to people living along the coast, the Karnataka forest department has devised a plan to prevent further damage to the beaches.

An increase in population density and economic activities in the coastal zones is pressuring the ecosystem, which can lead to loss of biodiversity, coral reef bleaching, new diseases among organisms, hypoxia, reduced water quality, and a threat to human health due to toxins in fish and algae.

Since about 60 percent of the world’s population lives within 62 miles from an ocean, any catastrophe along coastlines will cause huge loss of life. The forest department wants to prevent such disaster by fortifying the coastal regions. It is planning a "green shield" at all the beaches in the three coastal districts of the state — from Thalapady near Mangalore to Karwar, a stretch of 192 miles.

The "shield" will be a three-tier green cover with different types of coastal vegetation. Said Manjunath Shetty, asistant conservator of forests, Kundapur subdivision, “A green carpet of ipoma biloma, a creeper which grows at beaches and pins sand to the ground, will comprise the first tier. It will provide adequate cover to the beach wildlife, like small amphibian crustaceans, turtles, and snakes.

"The second tier will be made of Vetiver, an aromatic plant known for its thick network of roots and medicinal applications.

“A thick cover of trees like casuarina, calophyllum and honge (pongamia pinnata) will make up the third tier.”

A 109-mile “green shield” will soon come up in the three coastal districts of Udupi (between Karnad and Shiroor), Uttara Kannada (from Bhatkal to Karwar), and Dakshina Kannada (from Thalapady to Karnad).

Another ‘green shield’ had been set up at Kodi Kanyana sea face in Kundapur division, Shetty said. “Chief minister BS Yeddyurappa will inspect it on August 13,” he said.

“Over the centuries, due to human intervention, beaches have lost their natural vegetative cover,"said Ananth Hegde Ashisara, chairman, Karnataka Board of Biodiversity and also Western Ghats Task Force. “No human effort will be able to arrest the advance of the sea under such conditions. But nature can repair some of the damage if we initiate natural re-generation," he said.

“The green shield will protect people from disasters like tsunami, hurricane and metallic corrosion due to saline winds,” Sundar Naik, additional principal conservator of forests, added.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sugar cane : arsenic :: love : marriage

Whew! Deriving today's title required summoning dusty recollections of analogies from the recesses of my mind. Anyway, many locals know one of Hilo's worst-kept secrets: that Hilo Bay and environs are polluted with arsenic, a by-product of the Canec industry. Canec is a building material, made only in Hawaii, that was popular and cheap, and made from sugar cane stalks treated with arsenic.

From 1932 to 1963 the Hawaiian Cane Products plant in Hilo manufactured Canec from bagasse, the fiber left after sugar cane stalks are crushed for their juices. The process included treating Canec with arsenic to deter insects and minimize mildew. Although Canec hasn't been manufactured in decades, contamination survived. At least one study reported arsenic concentrations in the sediments of Hilo Bay as high as 6370 ppm, approximately 34 times higher than anywhere else in the state.

A few years ago the plan was to cover shoreline soils with three feet of fresh soil. I'm not quite sure what that would--or did--accomplish, since the proposed fix seemed as ineffective as the discredited "solution to pollution is dilution." Nevertheless, as recently as late April, the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported that work was continuing on efforts to cover up contaminated soil on the site of the future Target and Safeway stores in Hilo, where high levels of arsenic, dioxins and petroleum compounds were found.

So, if covering up a heavy metals problem, well, only covers it, what's the alternative? Yup, you guessed it. Vetiver!

Research conducted at least since the mid 1980s confirms that Vetiver tolerates a wide range of soil acidity, alkalinity, salinity, sodicity, and elevated levels of Aluminium, Manganese, and heavy metals such as Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Nickel, Lead, Zinc, Mercury, Selenium and Copper in the soil. (Truong, P., et al).

It also absorbs large quantities of heavy metals from industrial waste and, in the process, protects ground water from contamination, claim a duo of researchers at India's Kerala University.

In a paper presented at the Kerala Environment Congress 2010, concluded on Saturday, researchers D.S. Jaya and G. Dhanya report that the penetrating roots of fast-growing
Vetiver can effectively remove hazardous heavy metals from industrial effluents.

Since industrial waste poses a great threat to the environment, Vetiver will become a great boon, say the researchers, who are the faculty members of the Department of Environment Science of Kerala University. Vetiver planted around industrial firms that flush out metal-rich waste water will remove the metals from the water. "Thus the soil and ground water of the region will be protected without being degraded," Jaya said.

Large numbers of Vetiver plants could be grown in artificial wetlands around factories and industrial units and thus protect the environment, she said, adding that technologies were also available to recover the metals from the plant material.

"Another interesting fact is that the plants have shown different efficiency for absorbing different metals. Good results are shown for zinc, lead and cadmium," Jaya said.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Has Vetiver gone to the dogs? Grrr, not exactly...

From the author of the Smartdogs' Weblog 6/10/10 entry, called Animal Attraction

I like to experiment with essential oils. I love perfume. Good perfume, not cheap drugstore stuff. And essential oils not only give me a way to experiment with different scent combinations, I can also use them make my own scented soaps and cleaning products.

One day as I was playing around with mixtures of different scents while surrounded by a pack of curious dogs, I thought “I wonder what the dogs think of these?”

Anyone who’s spent a bit of time with dogs understands that they don’t make the same kinds of value judgments about smells that we do. Seriously. In case you have not already noticed the obvious, your dog adores smells like shit and week old garbage and rotting flesh and he probably thinks that smells like fabric softener and Glade air freshener are utterly revolting.

It’s easy to find scents where dogs and humans disagree. I wanted to see where the dogs and I agreed. So I collected a dozen or so vials of essential oils and four dogs (the number I had on hand) and conducted an informal experiment. I put a drop of each oil on a small piece of paper then held the sample out toward each dog in turn and let each one decide whether they wanted to explore it more intimately or not.

The results were interesting.

Being courteous beasts, the dogs politely and carefully sniffed each sample offered. They seemed to react neutrally to most of the scents, generally taking a quick, cautious sniff or two then looking at me inquisitively. All four turned up their noses at eucalyptus and avoided it. Three expressed similar distaste for tea tree and two for violet. Wintergreen made one dog sneeze; the other three refused to sniff it. I didn’t force the issue. They showed a somewhat marked interest in sandalwood, patchouli and ylang-ylang, taking a few extra sniffs and pausing thoughtfully between them.

All the dogs were mesmerized by three scents – vetiver, frankincense and oak moss. Vetiver was the clear winner. All four were entranced by it. They didn’t just take a few polite whiff of the sample – they inhaled slowly and deeply, and then paused to process the aroma between each sniff. Charlie even tried to follow the bottle into the cabinet.

While an interesting little experiment, I didn’t intend to follow it up. That is, until last week, as I browsed the beauty products while waiting for my stylist.

A row of fragrances in the Aveda aisle caught my eye. I sniffed each one cautiously. Most were a lot sweeter and more citrusy than the scents I prefer, but one hit the jackpot. Chakra 1 is a blend of vetiver, frankincense (olibanum) and patchouli, strong and woody but not overpowering. Although it wasn’t something I’d ordinarily buy, it was relatively inexpensive and, given the results of my recent experiment, I suspected that the dogs might enjoy it. So I brought a sample home.

I’m glad I did. Chakra 1 has been a big hit with the beasties. When I apply it they sniff me like a freshly decorated hydrant. And if I spritz a little on one of the dog beds, the boys will roll on it in evident ecstasy.

Because the dogs and I seem to share a preference for grassy and woodsy fragrances, I decided to test their reactions to my perfume collection. While distinctly unimpressed by most of the products, Muschio di Quercia was the paws down favorite and young Charlie displays a clear and consistent interest in Privet Bloom (lemon, bergamot and verbena on top; white hyacinth in the middle, and base notes sea grass and cucumber).

It appears that I’m not the only one checking my critters' reaction to fragrance, or even the first. Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal has the details:

Zoos have long spritzed perfumes and colognes on rocks, trees and toys in an effort to keep confined animals curious.

In 2003, Pat Thomas, general curator for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo in New York, decided to get scientific about it. Working with 24 fragrances and two cheetahs, he recorded how long it took the big cats to notice the scent and how much time they spent interacting with it.

The results left barely a whiff of a doubt. Estée Lauder’s Beautiful occupied the cheetahs an average of just two seconds. Revlon’s Charlie managed 15.5 seconds. Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps took it up to 10.4 minutes. But the musky Obsession for Men triumphed: 11.1 minutes. That’s longer than the cats usually take to savor a meal.

Ann Gottlieb, the “nose” who helped create Obsession, believes that a a number of factors in the fragrance might render it irresistible.

“It’s a combination of this lickable vanilla heart married to this fresh green top note—it creates tension,” she says. The cologne also has synthetic animal notes like civet, a musky substance secreted by the cat of the same name, giving it particular sex appeal, she adds. “It sparks curiosity in humans and, apparently, animals.”

According to, “Obsession for Men” includes topnotes of mandarin and bergamot; heart notes of lavender, myrrh, sage, clove, nutmeg and coriander and amber, musk, sandalwood, vetiver and patchouli as base notes.

Combining Obsession’s formulation data with the results of my informal research on my dogs, I’ll say that if I was interested in animal attraction I would experiment with scents featuring simple sweet heart notes like vanilla, orange and lemon combined with strong animal and woody basenotes, like topnotes lemon, bergamot, verbena; white hyacinth as a middle note and base notes sea grass and cucumberMuschio di Quercia – a deep, woodsy scent that my dogs adore.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

California dreamin'...of help from Vetiver!

California's myriad problems, from tempestuous wildfires to torrential rains, scream for relief. And Vetiver's been tried by the most austere conditions and been found true--in California, in the mid-1990s. Today Wolfram Alderson (Wolfram's World) dug up the history:

Worst case scenario provided for Vetiver grass planting at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Vetiver grass was given an opportunity to demonstrate its tolerance of poor soil and environmental conditions in a "worst case scenario" at Land Lab, an 340-acre environmental study area at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. During the summer of 1994, 44 Vetiver plants were installed along a cut face slope leading up to the Land Lab Information Center.

Vetiver was among plant materials included in a revegetation project implemented by the Casa Colina Horticulture Therapy and Training Program, a Pomona-based program that provides employment and training for people with disabilities.

The goal of the revegetation project was to restore the ability of the native California Black Walnut trees on the site to seed new generations of tree saplings. Before the project, mostly old growth trees and very few young trees had survived unfavorable conditions that had previously included overgrazing, construction activities, a canopy of invasive exotic weeds, and few surviving native or understory plants. Soil conditions were very poor and heavy erosion and landslides were prevalent.

Only "moondust and shale" soil was left after construction of a road leading to the Land Lab Information Center. Topsoil and more than ten feet of earth were removed, leaving a dry, shale-pocked substance entirely devoid of organic matter. During the summer, wind and sun pummeled lifeless dust and rock that crumbled and cascaded down the slope face onto the asphalt roadway. In winter months, rains turned the material into a gray mud that frequently slipped downhill in mudslides or simply washed down the driveway in a milky flow. As a general reference, temperatures in the Los Angeles area range from 28F to 110F, with a mean of 64.4 F. Normal Los Angeles rainfall is 14.68 inches/year. Vetiver can survive with as little as 12 inches of annual rain, but average rainfall of 27.5 inches is preferable.

When the 4‰ container-sized Vetiver was planted, portable Rainbird sprinklers provided some irrigation during the initial months following planting. However, frequent waterline breaks and other challenges starved the plants for water and attention during the first year. No irrigation has occurred at all since the sporadic watering of the first year. After a three-year revegetation period, project funding was discontinued and site maintenance was abandoned.

Remarkably, as of December 1999, 90% of the Vetiver planted at the site survived the soil, the blazing sun, the afternoon winds, and even a large population of voracious rabbits that get its water and food from the vegetation. Although the Vetiver that remains would clearly look happier if they were to get a little more water, it's amazing that Vetiver survived when other native plantings did not. When Vetiver is stressed, it "hunkers down," growing lower and exhibiting more dry bades. But, as you seen here and in other Southern California Vetiver images, Vetiver has survived here while native sages and plants considered to be more drought tolerant have not. Quite an accomplishment for this simple little clump of tropical grass!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Vetiver Shows Promise for Removing Antibiotics from Water

What goes in must come out, and when animals are given antibiotics, they can find their way into the water supply. Now, a Michigan Tech senior has identified one way to sop them up.

Antibiotics, like many pharmaceuticals, pass through the digestive tract largely unchanged. The resulting drug-laden waste from farms and feedlots (or for that matter, apartments and subdivisions) may be treated, but conventional methods don’t break down excreted antibiotics.

Although the concentrations are small, probably not enough to have an immediate effect on anyone drinking a cup of water, scientists fear that releasing antibiotics indiscriminately into the environment encourages the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and make it harder to treat deadly infectious diseases, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis.

“There are also problems with using this contaminated waste to fertilize crops, or the water to irrigate,” says Stephanie Smith, who graduates in May with a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Working with Rupali Datta, an associate professor of biological sciences, Smith designed an experiment using sterile Vetiver to address the issue.

Vetiver is a native of India often grown in constructed wetlands to cleanse wastewater. It is both vigorous and noninvasive, and has been used to clean up some tough customers, including TNT.

Smith grew Vetiver hydroponically in a greenhouse, exposing the plants to various concentrations of tetracycline and monensin, two antibiotics commonly used to treat dairy cattle. “We wanted to see if the Vetiver would uptake them, because if you give these antibiotics to cows, 70 percent is excreted in active form,” Smith says. “We worry that they’ll leach into the groundwater, get into drinking water and compound the problem of antibiotic resistance.”

At the end of the 12-week study, all of the tetracycline and nearly all (95.5%) of the monensin had disappeared from the hydroponic solution. Tests confirmed that the Vetiver had absorbed and metabolized both drugs into its tissue. The result)s are preliminary, says Smith, but they show that Vetiver holds promise for remediating antibiotics in wastewater.

Smith also recorded a peculiar side effect. “The Vetiver in the tetracycline solution grew faster, much faster than the controls,” she says. “The plants in monensin grew somewhat faster.”
Next, the plants will be analyzed to determine what ultimately happens to the antibiotics within the plant tissue.

Smith’s research project was supported by a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, funded by Michigan Tech.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lyza and Karen say, "Vetiver works!"

In every movement, a time comes when "the word" becomes part of the lexicon, a time that it needs no introduction. We're not there--yet. However, glimmers of hope appear. In Hawaii, we're finally meeting people who can pronounce "Vetiver" and, in some cases, even enthusiastically relate how it can help our environment.

This week two separate bloggers embraced Vetiver--for different reasons. Thank you, Lyza Danger Gardner ( and Karen Caplan( Their abbreviated narratives follow.
By Lyza:


Vetiver’s present in nearly 90% of Western perfumes and its aroma is a complex weave of smoke, earth, wood, secrets, calm, nuance, and sap. The fragrance has almost no edges; in its distilled form, it’s a viscous, amber syrup that you could almost put on pancakes.

The grass is native to India and related to lemongrass, and seems calibrated to the current needs of our world. It’s grown widely in Haiti, India, and Indonesia for the perfume markets of the world, but its other talents are promoted by organizations like The Vetiver Network International.

Vetiver forms the basis of the “Vetiver System,” an interplay of the plant’s unique characteristics with its environment. It provides excellent erosion control, is easy to grow, doesn’t mind toxins like heavy metals or weird algae or phosporus blooms and, by dint of its way of propagation, is non-invasive and easily controlled.

Aromatic essential oil is distilled from its roots, which grow 12-15 feet nearly straight down and control erosion. Oil from roots 18 to 24 months old is highly prized. Like other complex and wonderful smells in the world, Vetiver oil is made up of 100 or more components. One of its most prominent is Terpinen-4-ol, a terpene shared with tea tree and nutmeg oils.

While the antiseptic effects of tea tree oil have been widely tested and documented, recent research has shown that the anti-inflammatory effect of Terpinen-4-ol may also suppress tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a primary antagonist in Crohn’s Disease.

By Karen:

Mudslides, Fires and Vetiver Grass

Mudslides. Fires. It seems as if Southern California experiences these plagues every year. And this year was no exception. We had terrible fires in the fall and, as our rainy season arrive, many areas in the South experienced flash flood warnings.

My most dramatic memory was after my mother and I drove back from Palm Springs to Orange County. A few days after our trip, the news reported that the very transition road we had traveled, from Highway 60 to Highway 57, was closed due to mudslides caused by heavy rains, saturated soil and fire damage.

All I could think of was, “Why aren't they planting Vetiver grass?”

What is Vetiver, you ask? According to my friends Noel Vietmeyer and Mark Dafforn of the National Research Council, this little-known tropical grass is relatively cheap and effective at preventing soil erosion. When planted in lines along the contours of slopes, Vetiver quickly forms narrow but very dense hedges. Its stiff foliage then blocks the passage of soil and debris, and slows any runoff, giving the rain a better chance of soaking into the soil instead of rushing off the slope.

Remember the horrific 2005 mudslide in La Conchita, California (near Santa Barbara), in which ten people died when an entire mountainside collapsed on top of their homes? Well, that location was also home to the only banana plantation in the western United States – Seaside Banana Gardens. (Before the 2005 disaster, a 1995 mudslide had knocked out most of this plantation.) Fortunately, the grower, Doug Richardson, only lost his bananas – he and his family were spared.

Doug still grows bananas, however, and a few years ago he wrote us about the success of his Vetiver planting (and more exotic bananas).

So, if I had a wish, it would be that someone reading this blog would pass along this information to the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Sunset Magazine and others, and that Vetiver would get great publicity and be planted all around Southern California so we'll NEVER have to worry about mudslides again.

So, please pass along this information…and I’ll keep you informed about how this message spreads!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Conventional v. Creative? The Father of Vetiver weighs in.

John Greenfield, the author of the groundbreaking Green Book, Vetiver: The Thin Green Line Against Erosion, and the "Father of Vetiver," just posted his views about well-intentioned but misguided efforts to help developing countries conserve soil and water.  They're well worth considering:
Misguided Aid to the Third World: the ‘Poverty’ Gap

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It most certainly is.

Eighty percent of Third World poverty occurs among rainfed farmers and their extended families in the tropics. More than 40 years spent on the ground in these countries exposed me to a huge variety of well-intentioned aid agencies, donor countries and myriad alphabet agencies from the United Nations.  Their  researchers, engineers and theoretical economists have battled for decades, and battle today, to develop a workable solution to the poverty and hunger in these areas. I've met many outstanding individuals over the years, but these brilliant minds are no match for the lack of coordination and different demands and agendas of the many and varied donor agencies involved in every developing country.

Donor countries with no experience in the tropics send their "experts" into the field and make multi-million dollar investment in schemes that are doomed to failure right from the start. Government heads and UN departments listen to economists who lack field experience and allocate aid according to textbook assumptions.

A major reason for near universal failure is the myth perpetrated by successions of aid experts from developed countries that the poverty of subsistence farmers resulted from a complex historical process that does not lend itself to simple or quick solutions. Economists are injected to explain the situation, anthropologists to analyse farmers’ needs, and then engineers to construct interventions developed for temperate climes, all without seeming to reach an understanding of the basic problem. However, an interesting historical fact is that very advanced agricultural civilizations developed and flourished in some of the most arid zones of the world – in the Near East, North Africa and Central America – and then disappeared, either because they failed to conserve precious soil, water, and fuel wood, or because they employed irrigation schemes that lacked a drainage component, and ultimately salinized the most fertile alluvial areas.

The world’s population is growing at a rate close to two percent annually, and by as much as four percent in parts of Africa. Typically there are two methods of farming – irrigated and rainfed.  Irrigated land accounts for about 20% of worldwide cultivation and 40% of global crop production. However, the cost of irrigation and drainage in the 1990s averaged around $10,000/hectare but could be as high as $25,000/hectare in the drier parts of Africa. Can developing countries really be expected to establish and maintain irrigated agriculture?


It's quite obvious that the additional food production needed in future years must come from the 80% of cultivated land that is rainfed.  The only way to address the hunger and poverty situation on a sustainable basis for subsistence farmers in the tropics is through moisture conservation, specifically by controlling runoff and making the best use of the rainfall in an area. Because of increased pressure on the land, the average subsistence rainfed farmer today, loses as much as 60% of his rainfall as runoff to the drainage network, which also causes major flooding in delta areas (Bangladesh, for instance). The runoff also carries off his soil and any remaining nutrients. Annual rainfall of 1000mm is thus reduced to an effective rainfall of only 400mm, which, if it arrives at sporadic intervals, cannot sustain a good crop, and another “drought” is declared.

Over the years, many organizations have recognized the need to control runoff and resulting soil erosion and loss and have invested a lot of effort and money in rainfed regions to address the problem mechanically, employing a battery of engineering "solutions." Contour banks, diversion banks, absorption banks, waterways, retainer walls, gabions, low dams and water harvesting schemes have proven to be unsustainable in the long term. The subsistence farmer lacks the equipment and labour required to maintain such interventions, and also takes issue with the amount of productive land taken out of production by such schemes.

The upshot is that all of this aid into rainfed areas has increased erosion, compromised production which reduces food and water, and increases poverty.  The increased runoff doesn't recharge the underground aquifers that supplied fresh water to village wells or sustained perennial streams, and the resulting floods are becoming horrendous.

Lesotho, a little country in Southern Africa, is a classic example of a well-intentioned but totally inappropriate constructed soil and water conservation system that virtually destroyed it. Diversion banks and waterways have eroded into gullies and canyons, making it impossible for farmers to cross from one side of their fields to the other.  Erosion is unchecked.  Aid agencies have abandoned the country to its fate, never admitting their constructed conservation system was a tragic mistake.

Man’s efforts to intervene in nature have failed miserably. We are too impatient. We demand an immediate fix.  Companies bring in the bulldozers, get paid and get out. The results are worldwide engineering disasters. Levees (stop banks) that are expected to control rivers in a meander plain, end with the river 30 feet above the town. Diversion systems that deprive an area of its natural runoff concentrate it in drainage networks that were never meant to handle it. All of these systems requirie massive construction and maintenance costs before ultimately failing completely and disastrously.  Hurricane Katrina, for example, burst through unprotected levees in Louisiana.

What subsistent rainfed farmers need throughout the tropical world is in situ moisture conservation to produce their crops on a sustainable basis; in situ moisture conservation to produce their fuel wood; in situ moisture conservation to replenish their aquifers and once perennial streams; in situ conservation systems that farmers can install themselves and maintain without assistance.

Decades of field trials and research by dedicated scientists, extension workers and organizations across the globe have proved there is an alternative, cheaper, biological solution to resolve our erosion and pollution problems that doesn't include complicated, expensive engineering and structural designs, and contrived bureaucratic accounting and bidding procedures.  It's a grass – a quite remarkable and astonishing plant known as Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides). 

High intensity rain storms in the tropics that cause runoff severe enough to cause erosion, landslides and mudslides, is a dynamic system that can't be controlled by static measures such as gabions, retainer walls, contour banks or even trees.

Use nature to control nature!

When planted as a single line, Vetiver forms a stiff, dense hedge that prevents erosion, forms natural terraces, increases soil moisture, and doesn't compete with companion crops.  Once established, Vetiver can withstand droughts, fire and floods, and will grow on highly acid or alkaline soils.  It can reclaim mine dumps, stabilize road cuttings, embankments and river banks, is economical to propagate and install, and requires only labor and hand tools.

Vetiver roots can absorb surplus nitrates and phosphates, can tolerate high levels of toxic elements such as arsenic, mercury, aluminium, and manganese,  and can protect dams and harbours from siltation.  This plant increases crop yields through moisture and nutrient conservation, grows only where planted, and is not a weed. Vetiver hedges will grow anywhere on any soil in the tropics (and subtropics), and, once established, will last for more than 100 years.

Over the past 20 years, The Vetiver Network International has had a major impact in the private sector and through worldwide NGOs (Non-Government Organisations), promoting Vetiver contour hedges to subsistence farmers in rainfed areas. Vetiver Systems are breathtakingly simple, and they work. provides a wealth of information, evidence, case studies and extensive references from field people who have successfully installed the Vetiver System, for those willing to open their minds and tackle sustainable development in a truly sustainable manner.

Thank you, California!! Come in, please!!

California Cleans Up Waste Water Using the Vetiver System

It is always exciting to see that Vetiver can be applied so successfully to resolve a problem, and its versatility in application. Bio Clean Environmental Services in Oceanside, which specializes in storm water treatment, used just a few Vetiver plants to "scrub" highly contaminated water.   Zack Kent, Storm Water Engineer, reported that the Oceanside project was an interesting opportunity because it's a very dirty site that treats wash down water from a harbor boat wash site, along with many smaller sewer spills coming from recreational vehicles (RVs) on a continuous basis. In the last two years, the system removed more than 4,000 pounds of oil-laden sediment from the pre-treatment chamber, treating 2,000 to 8,000 gallons of water daily.

Kent said that Bio-Clean chose Vetiver because of its ability to grow in saline water and address the high pollutant loads that characterize the installation.  "It was a great choice and a real success story." A power point containing images and data about this project are available for viewing on TVNI's website:

Approximately 18 Vetiver plants were installed in a concrete treatment box containing a special media.  Said Kent, "One of the ways we get the Vetiver to grow so quickly is we don’t use any soil. It’s a soil-less media made consisting of expanded aggregates and a proprietary hydroponics media. This allows for fast growth." Within 15 months the plants developed a massive root system, which collected high uptakes of N, P and a range of heavy metals.  Trimmed periodically, the Vetiver was dug up after 15 months.

The key data includes removal efficiency when comparing effluent inflow to outflow: nitrate 76%, phosphate 70%, TSS <15 microns 82% , copper 53% (undetectable), lead 100%, Zinc 79%, TPH (gasoline) 42%, TPH (diesel) 100%; TPH (motor oil) 100%, fecal coliform 84%,E. coli 79%, and Enterococci 70%