A periodic Newsletter from the European and Mediterranean Vetiver Network (EMVN)

Number 2 November 1999


The response to the first Newsletter, produced in April, was positive and justifies its continuation. The only significant hiccup was that many recipients receiving by e-mail were unable to open the version sent as an attachment. I hope this has now been rectified by installing Acrobat 3.0 and saving the file in 'pdf' format.

In June I joined Ir. Cornelis des Bouvrie in Amsterdam where we made a presentation to a group of senior staff at Heineken Breweries in which we invited them to consider giving financial support to TVN in company with others yet to be identified. Anything that might accrue from this or other contacts has only an indirect impact on EMVN but is, nevertheless worthwhile in the overall context of strengthening our global Network base. If TVN can operate from a stronger financial base the benefits filter down to national or regional operations such as ours.

In July, I spent 9 days in Albania at the request of the USAID funded Albanian Private Forestry Development Program which imported some 3,000 plants produced under tissue culture by Eco-Tech of Florida in 1998. There is no doubt that vetiver has a role in certain localities where climatic conditions are suitable. However, in many locations winters are severe and vetiver would either not survive at all or, at best, would perform unsatisfactorily. The prime focus is to address problems of erosion on smallholdings. However, much could also be done within the bio-engineering context of stabilizing steep slopes of roads, dams etc.


In April, the First Asia-Pacific Conference and Exhibition entitled 'Ground and Water Bioengineering for Erosion Control and Slope Stabilisation' was successfully held in Manila, Philippines. A considerable number of the papers presented were either directly or indirectly vetiver-related and Vetiver Grass Technology (VGT) received much attention.

In October a Conference was organised in Fujian Province by Professor Liyu Xu of the Institute of Soils, Nanjing University, China entitled 'Vetiver Bio-Engineering Technology for Erosion and Sediment Control and Civil Construction Stabilisation'. I had hoped to attend this but, on grounds of cost, have opted for the one below.

The Second International Vetiver Conference will be held in Thailand between 18-22nd January, 2000 hosted by His Majesty, The King of Thailand.

The Third International Congress of the European Society for Soil Conservation will be held in Valencia, Spain between 28th March and 1st April, 2000. In conjunction with Paul Truong I will be submitting a paper covering the general issues of VGT but with special focus on European applications.

Bits and Pieces

Polybags. There is little doubt, from a number of sources, that planting in polybags does achieve improved results. Plants are grown out ready for planting in the field or field nursery in polybags. The advantages are that plants are raised in a 'potting mix' which can be 1/3 each of soil, sand and manure and this nutritious medium is retained around the plants in the field. Watering of tightly packed, potted plants is easier, consumes less water and is consequently cheaper than if bare root plants were planted direct into the field. Using potted plants should result in near to 100% 'take' which is particularly important when planting steep slopes, subject to flash flooding before the vetiver is strongly established, The disadvantage is the cost and time of potting slips. The size and quality of bag are debatable issues. Some years ago, Dr P.K. Yoon in Malaysia found that the optimal size of bag was 4 x 6" (10 x 15cm). If planting in a nursery, size of bag is of less importance since transportation is not a critical factor. Criss Juliard from Madagascar has found no appreciable difference to root growth whether black or clear plastic was used. There seems little point in using other than thin plastic since it is used only for one planting. It seems that the thinner bags are more likely to come in clear plastic. I have not seen comment regarding the importance of slitting the whole bag and removing it for disposal at planting. My own experience is that not to do so impedes root growth. In any event it is important to slit open the bottom of the bag to ease root growth, so, slitting off the whole bag represents little additional work. Comments on this point are invited. A further alternative is to use open-bottomed sleeves but the disadvantage is that, even if the potting mix firms up with moisture, much soil tends to spill out during transportation. Yet another point for debate is the need for drainage holes in the bottom of the bag. Polybags can be supplied with or without these holes already punched. The issue is how necessary are they? I feel they are. Overall, the factors that need to be considered when using polybags are principally those related to cost and effort; need for immediate hedges with well-advanced plants; minimal gaps and; the logistics of transportation.

Pampas Grass

Can pampas grass fulfil the purpose of a vegetative barrier just as well as vetiver? I have seen references to Cortaderia argentea in TVN publications but, as far as I know, the variety that is widespread in Portugal and, presumably, elsewhere in Southern Europe is C. selloana which is also a native of Argentina. There is also C. jubata but this can be a serious weed in warmer climates since it produces much viable seed. Pampas behaves much like vetiver, being adaptable to a wide range of pH soil conditions and forming an exceptionally robust hedge. It is fast growing and its above ground vegetation is not dissimilar to that of vetiver but with drooping leaves; below ground I believe its rooting system does not equal that of vetiver. Pampas grass has some major disadvantages in that the leaves are like saws, dangerous to the touch and quite unsuitable for livestock grazing. Unlike vetiver the plants are difficult to remove and, certainly in the case of C. jubata and probably C. argentea, the plants produce viable seed. I gain the impression in Southern Portugal, where C. selloana is very common, that seeding is rare. However, many seed heads (plumes) on long stalks are produced which are pretty for a while but are ultimately messy when the plumes are blown around by wind. Pampas grass has application in garden design and could be used to protect garden areas from erosion. Overall, I do recommend pampas as an alternative.


From time to time I have been asked to provide information on costings. Recently, in the course of undertaking some work for Professor Massimo Maffei of Turin University, I converted into US dollars various costings that have been provided over time to TVN from a number of sources. Below are some of the summarised figures that result. I would be pleased to supply copies of the full calculations to any reader who requests them, providing they are paid-up EMVN members--I am always thinking of mailing expenses!

• The cost of land treatment with contour hedges of vetiver grass increases with slope gradient and labour cost per man day. Planting of steeper slopes requires greater hedgerow frequency and, because the work is more difficult, results in increased number of man days per linear meter. For example, with a 2-5% slope and labour costs of US$1, 2 and 3 per day planting costs per hectare (rounded) are US$24, 38 and 52 respectively. With a slope of 50-60% these figures rise to US$378, 600 and 823 respectively.

• In 1996, in Thailand, comparison was made between the cost of producing vetiver slips, in plastic bags, in the field and in greenhouses. The figures (in US dollars equivalent) for direct planting were: US$0.0048, 0.0032 and 0.0080 respectively. Figures for replanting in plastic bags following the first step. were:

US$ 0.0660, 0.0644 and 0.0692 respectively.

• In 1988, in India, a per hectare budget was produced for development of a vetiver grass nursery, based on the actual costs of a government operated nursery. Total rounded costs amounted to approximately US$820 equivalent. With an output of 60 slips per clump a farmer could expect a gross margin of approximately US$1,680 equivalent. A similar calculation was made in China in 1989 giving a total rounded cost of between US$1,020 and US$1,500 equivalent per hectare, dependent upon regional labour costs. Output was estimated at approximately US$4,800 giving a gross margin of between US$3,300 and US$3,800 equivalent.

• From experience in Thailand and Honduras, for example, a farmer can plant about 100 linear meters of hedge per day under difficult conditions or 200 meters under easy conditions. This compares with 5-10 meters per day of rock wall or contour ditch construction.

• Field costs of establishing vetiver hedges were calculated in India in 1988 at US$18.40 equivalent per hectare.

• More recent nursery development costings for Madagascar give a total cost of US$1,430 equivalent per hectare to produce some 1,111,000 slips per annum. The cost per marketable, slip of 3 tillers, was estimated at US$0.002 (rounded up). Gross margins were calculated for nurseries with two alternative production outlets. Selling bare root and containerised stock US$12,256 equivalent and; selling bare root stock only US$2126.

• Field costs for establishing hedges using bare-rooted vetiver slips per 100 meters were calculated at US$11.55 equivalent per linear meter.

Achnatherum splendens (Trin) (Jiji sao)

I have received further expressions of interest in Jiji sao and its potential in parts of Europe where vetiver would be unsuitable because of excessive cold. In the previous Newsletter's notes I did not discuss seeding. Dick Grimshaw wrote to me commenting that "Jiji sao does seed, but it is a shy seeder. Most farmers in North China propagate it vegetatively." From his observations it appears that "when planted on upland conditions it is not invasive. When planted in saline wetlands it spreads easily by seed. Some species of vetiver do the same under swamp land conditions." Comparative tests are being conducted on Jiji sao in China. Dick also wrote recently relative to the use of Jiji sao in Western Australia as follows: "Jiji sao might have very good potential in Australia, and should be tested

under controlled conditions. I believe it will only grow under alkaline soil conditions. It could have some very interesting applications for stabilizing and rehabilitating saline and sodic soils and sites. I was told in North China by a town mayor that it was the only grass he could use to stabilize a very saline site."


Following on from the article included on this subject in the previous Newsletter, Dick Grimshaw wrote to me as follows: "Vetiver is a strange plant, often it never flowers, but then it will flower under certain climatic conditions. For instance, in Louisiana, the Le Blanc's vetiver didn't flower for 30 years, then it flowered one year when there was a lot of plant stress caused by drought. In any event it rarely seeds and if it does its seeds are sterile."

Recently I was communicating with Craig Elevitch who is the key person behind 'Overstory' ( based in Hawaii. Overstory is a free bi-monthly, on-line newsletter which I would describe as having a permaculture base with specific focus on agro-forestry. In the context of vetiver grass Craig told me that he had imported a number of 'Sunshine' plants to Hawaii from Florida in 1995 which involved a one-year isolation quarantine programme. He tested the plants on his own farm and also gave some to the USDA Plant Materials Centre on Molokai for testing. He reports that, " both sites mature seed heads were collected on two different occasions, and the seeds tested for viability by a USDA lab. None of the seeds were found to be viable, so this selection does indeed appear to be sterile in Hawaii--a major advantage, as Hawaii is

overrun with exotic weeds."

Groundwater Recharge

Recently I was asked about the potential for vetiver to aid in groundwater recharge, specific to quite dry conditions in Palestine. I obtained the following from Dr. Doral Kemper, a noted authority on the subject, a vetiver enthusiast and now retired from his work as a Professor at the University of Wisconsin.

"The maximum amount of water that can be redirected to the groundwater by the grass hedges is equal to the amount of run-off from the cropped area without the hedges."

"We see decreases in run-off from grass hedged fields in the U.S. compared to fields without hedges, ranging from 10-17%. Run-off from cropped land without hedges commonly ranges from 10 to 13 cm per year. If we assume a reduction in run-off of 50% when the run-off without hedges is 20cm the hedges would be redirecting 0.5 x 20 = 10cm of water to the groundwater per year."

"Additional transpiration resulting from the hedges is difficult to calculate since it involves the increase in mass transfer of the water vapour resulting in the greater roughness of the vegetative surface as the air moves across the crop and the taller grass hedges. While the net effect of this roughness factor on the total amount of water transpired by the vegetation will probably be less than 10%, if it persists for 200 days per year and average transpiration is increased from 0.50 to 0.55 cm per day, the extra transpiration caused by the hedges will be 0.05 x 200 = 10cm per year. On the basis of such simplified approximations it appears that the net effect of the hedges on groundwater recharge can be either positive or negative depending upon other factors involved in the production system, structure and texture of the soil etc."

"A potential advantage of the taller and deeper rooted vetiver is that it may decrease wind velocity in the crop canopy, thereby decreasing transpiration while most of the water transpired by the deep rooted vetiver may come from zones in the soil which are too deep to be reached by the shallower crop roots."

"I have not seen good and reasonably simple means developed for making these calculations. Moreover, good field data on these factors is practically non-existent."

"There was an article in the Vetiver News a few years ago which described observations by villagers in India that the level of water in their shallow wells rose as more vetiver hedges were planted in the fields around these wells. That would be good evidence that the increased infiltration due to the hedges was exceeding the increase in transpiration. However, it could also be ascribed to increased rainfall during the years of observation, unless the observations also included rainfall records, or a nearby area where the change in amount of hedges was not taking place."

"I am impressed with the reduction in run-off generally caused by grass hedges. This keeps more of the precipitation where it is needed and decreases the erosion of the top-soil. If a large portion of the precipitation in the area under consideration runs off, and the hedges and factors associated with their development decrease run-off and increase infiltration there is a good possibility that the hedges will also add to the groundwater recharge and crop production."

Planting Time

Relative to our European conditions, there seems to be quite a range of viewpoint on this. The essential points to bear in mind are that active growth will not start until soil temperatures are about 14╝C. Plants need plenty of moisture for their early growth and the strongest growth will occur during the long hot summer months. In the nursery, sub-division can probably be done any time say between March and October depending upon local circumstances. Field planting will be dependent upon precipitation, soil moisture and whether bare root slips or advanced potted plants are being used. There is no question that rain, heat , sun and long days result in a profusion of slips being produced, say 40-50 per clump over a 6-month period. Dryer, cooler and shorter days will probably result in a production of say 15-20 slips per clump over a six-month period. Water is a key factor in the first two years of plant growth and the cost of providing this should be weighed against the long-term benefits of establishing a permanent vegetative barrier against erosion. In Australia and China it has been shown that the cost of engineered protection measures for highway and railroad cuttings and embankments is some ten times more expensive than the establishment of vetiver hedges. Clearly under these circumstances provision of drip feed irrigation for the plants in their first two critical years, before roots are deeply established is well worthwhile. Sandy Robertson who is using vetiver for erosion control and as a windbreak to protect his orchard in the central Algarve tells me that he has had good success with subdividing and direct planting in the field in mid-October.

Keeping Plants Moist

From my own observation and from comments sent to me from Criss Juliard in Madagascar I feel sure that keeping bare root plants moist is critical to early development of new growth. The use of cow-tea, referred to in the previous newsletter in which to hold plants prior to direct planting in the field or nursery or into polybags is a good approach. In Madagascar, handling large quantities of plants, they have recently developed a technique of transferring plants to the field in large baskets with plastic liners filled with cow porridge to keep the plants moist. The result is a 90% success rate and a reduction in time from splitting clumps to planting from 4-6 weeks down to 2 weeks.


I have received some communications on the issue of trimming, following the article that I included in the previous Newsletter. Perhaps we should be looking at two different practices here; one for nurseries and one for field use. In a nursery, plants could be cut back in winter to quite low levels, perhaps 10 - 20 cm or even lower, to maximise soil warming potential in the Spring. However, in the field, there is need for the top growth of a vetiver hedge to act as a vegetative barrier against erosion, especially during winter when heavy rains are likely to occur. In these circumstances there is merit in routine trimming to say not less than 40 cm but to do this in early Spring, after the heavy rainy season, to promote root growth and open up the soil somewhat to sunlight and warmer temperatures. Dr. Paul Truong, writing from Australia commented. "In my experience, where you have severe frost, as we do here sometimes with temperatures as low as -11╝C, the uncut tops provide some protection to the crown and growing points. If you cut the tops these will be exposed to the low temperature and may be killed. Here I found that when the plants are too young or heavily grazed, winter frost often killed them or in the case of big clumps some parts were killed.

As for growth, as Don Miller found out, trimming would warm the soil up faster and result in improved growth.

For erosion control, tops should not be cut to any height. We need all we can get to be effective.

From these, I would suggest the following management practices for your region;

1- Nursery, do not trim them until the danger of severe frosts or snow is gone then trim to about 40cm; water them and fertilise them. Do not trim too short as they always die back and also there may be some food reserves in the mature stems

2- Field planting, for 1st or 2nd year after planting, depending on growth treat them as you do in a nursery because they are basically in a nursery phase. But trimming them only if it is practical e.g. on flat ground in flood control projects, but on steep slopes, don't worry about cutting as the growth may be a bit slower and we need the tops to protect against late rains storm run-off.

Then, after that don't cut them. This would provide maximum protection during winter rain and also reduce maintenance cost."

Implementing a Vetiver Multiplication Program

In March 1999, Criss Juliard prepared a 7-page paper setting out in detail the procedures that he developed over time for large-scale vetiver plantings in Madagascar, particularly in respect of road protection. If any reader would like a copy please let me know.

DNA Trials

In mid-July I received from Dr. Bob Adams of Baylor University, Texas, plants from 13 accessions that he has identified by DNA analysis. This small trial, which I am installing in my home nursery but which will be supervised by Dr. Adams, is being replicated in several other regional Networks. The purpose of these 2-3 year trials is to measure comparative performance as follows:

1. Do they flower, if so, is the seed viable (will it germinate?)

2. How do they grow--height, general robustness, insect/disease problems?

3. Do they tolerate the local conditions? So, after getting the plants started (6 months) they would not be watered or fertilised. Will they survive and grow in this environment?

News from the Region

In Italy there has been a considerable upsurge of interest in VGT with interest being expressed by Universities, public bodies private individuals and commercial enterprises and from localities spread from the extreme South to Piedmont Region in the North. Claudio Zarotti, the Manager of Tecnagrind and Imobiliare Rustici Urbani (IRU) is undertaking the role of National Coordinator. IRU operates a large nursery, now located near Pisa. This is a more suitable location for the production of vetiver plants than earlier nursery operations located to the North, nearer Milano. The plants are raised under greenhouse conditions with overhead mist spraying and using good quality potting soil. He reports that he can supply plants to meet demand throughout EMVN. He states that the plants which have a strongly formed rooting system are well grown out and are sold in pots, 10 cm in diameter and about 20 cm high, ready for immediate field planting. Claudio confirms that he can meet orders in excess of 100 plants per consignment, it is uneconomic to handle smaller quantities, at a price of about Euros 2.58 per plant at his nursery near Pisa. Such a potted plant would be equivalent to a grown-out, 3-tiller bare-root slip.


I am pleased to announce that, since our last Newsletter we now have 4 National Coordinators.

Italy - Ing. Claudio Zarotti, tel:39-2-32.48.79; fax: 39-2-32.59.22;

e-mail:<[email protected]>.

Spain: Dr╗. Maria JosÚ Sanchez Martinez who is the Titular Professor of Edaphology and Agricultural Chemistry at the University of Murcia; tel: 34-9-68-38.74.48;e-mail: <[email protected]>.

Morocco: Dr. Dale Rachmeler 16 Rue Ghississa, Soussi, Rabat; e.mail: <[email protected]>.

Albania: Dr. Vangjo Kovaci, Instituti I Studimit te Tokave, Rruga Durresit, Laprake, Tirana; tel: 355-42-28367; e-mail:<[email protected]>

I am now looking to Greece and Turkey from where I have received some positive expressions of interest in VGT.

The European and Mediterranean Vetiver Network (EMVN)

I would like to thank those who have become paid-up members. The quite modest subscription is most helpful in defraying communication costs. However, many who receive the Newsletter (solicited or unsolicited) are not yet members and I would like to invite them to join.


Criss Juliard sent the following comments on the vetiver that he has planted on his property in the Eastern Algarve.

The vetiver planted at 30cm on the square in July 1998 in a sunny, yet rocky terrain, performed well. July is usually not sufficiently humid but the long, hot days proved more beneficial than transplanting during colder, damper months. At time of planting, horse manure was added in the trenches, and leaves were

trimmed to 25 cm. The crowns were well covered with soil, and the plants watered for about two months. Plants in full sunshine fared better than those that were shaded for about half of the day. Multiplication rate over a 12 month period averaged about 25 - 30 tillers from a three tiller starter.

For the 1999 subdivisions, multiplication was accelerated using a 4 -7 day soaking process of the slips prior to transplanting. Half of the tillers were soaked in a pig tea solution, the other half in untreated water. Within 3 days, new roots appeared from the crown, and new growth began within several days of transplanting, regardless of the type of soaking.

There was little appreciable difference between plants that had been soaked in pig tea compared to those soaked in plain water. Soaking was done in the open sun, thus raising the temperature of the water to about 45╝ C. It appears as if light and warmth were as much a catalyst as the hormones in the pig manure juice. Horse tea was also tried, but with no apparent advantage.

Use of vetiver: Many plants were given away to friends and neighbours who showed an interest in vetiver technology. Brief instructions were also provided on where and how to plant. The rest of the vetiver was planted in hedgerows to test over a 3-4 year period the capacity of vetiver to increase soil moisture retention, reduce run off, and improve the organic quality of a parched and rocky soil plot. Approximately 100 meters of hedgerow was planted at the rate of approximately 12 plants per meter and another 250 meters will be planted in the Spring with the new tillers.

Recently I visited Sandy Robertson's orchards in central Algarve and was most impressed with the growth and effectiveness of the 400 m of vetiver hedges that he planted in March this year and which are now well over 2m high, partly attributable to the fertigation it received. Now that the hedges are so well established Sandy expects the hedges to look after themselves unaided. The hedges were planted 1.35 meters from the nearest row of young avocado trees, about 1m 80 high, and there was no question that this row looked more vigorous than other rows further from the vetiver hedge. Sandy's farm does not suffer from frost and the benefits clearly were as a result of wind protection. Lateral root growth was measured at no more than 40cm and was clearly not affecting the adjacent fruit trees. Sandy was trimming the vetiver hedge to a height of about 35cm at the time of my visit using a 3.5 h.p. 4-stroke, forward mounted mower with a 80cm cutter bar. This was doing an effective job but it is hard work to push through the heavy vetiver hedgerow.

HomePage & EMVN Coordinator

May I remind readers that they can obtain much information and view TVN's Newsletters on the HomePage There is a section devoted to EMVN affairs.

Michael Pease

<[email protected]>