Posted by & filed under Animal Forage, Earth Banks, Food Forests, Land, Material, Plant Systems, Soil Conservation, Soil Rehabilitation, Structure, Swales, Terraces.

During my relatively short time in the Permaculture movement I have only heard Vetiver mentioned a few times. Could it be that this profoundly important pioneer is not getting the attention it deserves? Although commonly and extensively used in permaculture sites in some parts of the world, its uptake in Australia in particular seems to be slow. Why would this be happening? How could a plant with such beneficial qualities be so disregarded? My stay with John Champagne of the Bega Valley, NSW, ingrained the great importance of this plant and introduced me to a few of many possible applications of the grass.

John is a passionate Vetiver user who got his first sprigs about 10 years ago. Currently on his property he is using it as a hardware runoff silt trap, kykuyu grass barrier, erosion control, and fruit tree berms (demonstrated in the accompanying video). He also explains that Vetiver makes an excellent long lasting mulch.

John first saw Vetiver being used in Bali on road works as an anti-erosion measure. Then on the same trip saw it being extensively used at IDEP’s Bali Poverty Project, where it was being planted on contour as an erosion control that would build up soil during the rains, creating terraces without the hard manual labour. During his recent tour around Africa, following the International Permaculture Convergence in Malawi, he witnessed an extensive use of the grass, especially in the Permaculture village, Chikukwa, Zimbabwe. He describes how the 8000+ population of perhaps one of the largest and relatively unknown Permaculture sites in the world has integrated Vetiver extensively into their system. Similar to the Bali Poverty Project, they planted it along contours where in time, debris, organic matter and soils back-fill behind it to build terraces that they could then plant trees into.


Chikukwa, Zimbabwe

It’s easy to find plenty of information on Vetiver. The Vetiver Network International (TVNI) is a great group dedicated to promoting vetivers use worldwide. As I read about the grass, all I can seem to find is positive attribute after positive attribute. From its tolerance to extreme climatic variation "such as prolonged drought, flood, submergence and extreme temperature from -14ºC to +55ºC", to its ability to withstand a soil pH from 3.3 to 12.5, and toxins from contaminated waste water and soil. Vetiver is also tolerant to all heavy metals, salinity, pests, chemicals and fire. It has a deep strong root system that can "penetrate weathering rock, hard pan, and other hostile growing media" making it ideal for erosion control. It is non-competitive and non-invasive, dying back once shaded out, therefore a great pioneer species for converting eroded land back to fertile forest systems. Not to mention can be used as a stock fodder.

Vetivers could be up there with bamboo as one of the most beneficial plants ever, especially in relation to a low fossil fuel future. The days of bulldozers, excavators, and even the trusty tractor could well be over soon. Therefore it is imperative that we start thinking of replacement technologies for a world with limited access to heavy duty machinery. Could one of the alternatives be a simple grass? Imagine keyline designs with rows of Vetiver rather then diversion drains and deep ripping, and contour swales/terraces formed behind hedgerows of the grass.

I’d love this article to stimulate some discussion on the issue of the future of water harvesting. And I encourage others to share any creative applications of Vetiver they have seen or thought of. This is what Permaculture is about, this is what we do, creative solutions for a sustainable future.

Here’s a brief video clip I made where John demonstrates one of Vetiver’s many applications:

YouTube Preview Image

For more information on Vetiver please visit The Vetiver Network International or to contact John Champagne please visit www.permaculturedesign.com.au

References:

19 Responses to “Vetiver – One Grass Revolution”

  1. Jbob

    Nice article. I heard of vetiver a few years ago, but what finally made me want to try it is the descriptions of its vertical rooting habit. I have a lot of elephantgrass (Pennisetum purpureum) as a border around my gardens, and while it is an awesomely productive plant and a great windbreak, the roots do go horizontally almost as far as the plants are tall (15 ft+) and are very competitive with the veggies.

    I would love to hear from any vetiver users what they think about its use as a garden border/weed barrier/windbreak.

    Reply
  2. Assaf Koss

    This is quite interesting! I’m currently volunteering in the Israeli desert, and I can’t help but wonder about how introducing such a useful plant could do to help here (lots of floods, plenty of grazing).

    Thanks for the information!

    Reply
  3. Glen Novello

    Hi Jonathon, I have been doing alot of searching for information about Vetiver but hadn’t heard of much use in the more temperate areas. Is it the Monto vetiver that is used in Bega? I would like to try and grow it in the Canberra area but couldn’t find where to purchase some.

    Reply
  4. eco-island

    we love vetiver here on maui!! erosion, barrier, biomass the list goes on..

    Reply
  5. Vic Gaffney

    This wonderful plant represents a simple remedy to the problems faced by the agricultural communities here in India!
    Lovely article … thanks a ton!

    Reply
  6. john greenfield

    Welcome to you all from the Vetiver Network, yes vetiver grass is a unique grass,so unique I couldn’t possibly do it justice here, you would have to take a ‘walk’ through our extensive website,
    http://www.vetiver.org

    John Greenfield,
    Director
    The Vetiver Network International
    April 22 2010

    Reply
  7. Kath

    Sounds like a good solution to my problem of kikuyu grass intrusion into vegie beds. But where can I get it from in Perth, WA??

    Reply
  8. Jonathon Chan

    Hi Glen, I’m pretty sure that the main vetiver cultivar used is the non-spreading non-invasive variety Monto, but I’m awaiting John confirmation on that. If you contact him directly he may be able to help you out with a source close to you. I know he spends a bit of time in the Canberra area teaching Permaculture courses. He’s a great guys, and I’m sure he will be more than happy to assist you. His email address is brogopg (at) bigpond.net.au.

    Reply
  9. Greg

    Jonathan – do you know how John manages his grass? It was so short in the video, which would give the vetiver a good fighting chance. After a year of being on our property, without a tractor and slasher, our “grass” is now waist high.

    Just wondering how experienced permaculturalists deal with this – big expensive petroleum based machinery? Mobs of goats?

    Reply
  10. Jonathon Chan

    Hi Greg, just before we planted out the Vetiver, John went over with the brush cutter. But he did say previously he was running geese in the area, but he got rid of them when he thought he was moving, but then changed his mind. I would recommend geese over goats especially amongst an orchard where goats will rep havoc. I’ve heard it said that 6 geese are about equivalent to one cows in grass consumption. They are pretty self reliant and don’t take a lot of work. You might want to keep them fenced off from ponds and dams, as they can make a big mess, and it can be hard to get them out. They are quiet resilient when it comes to foxes (compared to other poultry) except when they are sitting on eggs, so you might want to provide them some protection during this time. You would probably need to slash the area before introducing the geese, but after that (if you have enough) they will keep the grass down. If you have any other questions you can email me on jcnz88(at)gmail.com

    Reply
  11. Shelley McClure

    To re-invigorate an exciting topic. I have also been activated by John Champagne at a Permaculture course he taught here in Thailand re. the amazing versitility of vetiver grass.

    I am getting involved in the design of an education project for farmers in Northern Thailand and am looking at using vetiver to create terraced areas.

    During my research I came across this great resource. http://www.vetiver.org/THA_training%20manual.pdf

    I am wondering if anyone has heard of examples of vetiver and keyline patterning?

    I agree Joni, applications on the Australian landscape should be valuable.

    Reply
  12. Greg Bell

    Here on the mid-north coast of NSW Australia, we went from 5 months of scorching dry weather to two floods in two weeks. The vetiver has held on through it all. It doesn’t spread, and because it grows where others don’t, it hasn’t been overtaken by other grasses. Where they do compete, it seems to hold its own. This contrasts sharply with almost everything else we’ve planted here on our tired, heavy clay soils.

    Because of the rotten growing season, I haven’t pulled it up and divided it but probably will next spring…

    Reply
  13. Param Nallathambi

    Hi, I was searching through the site for aromatherapy and found the name vetiver. I immediately recognised it is a Tamil name, so I wanted to learn more about it. Ver mean root in Tamil – I heard this name when I grew up in Tamil Nadu, India. My mother used to use vetiver as natural medicine for us. I am surprised and happy to know it is well known in other countries. I would love to plant some in my garden, I am in Sydney, does anyone know where I can find vetiver? Thank you.

    Reply

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