The Vetiver Grass Plant

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 (VS) 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. 

This cultivated variety of Chrysopogon zizanioides (previously 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 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 1/8 that of soft steel), 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 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 Chrysopogon zizanioides, that is promoted for VS applications originates in south India, is non-fertile, non-invasive, and has to be propagated by clump subdivision (see our production process). 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.

Vetiver roots six month plant from Senegal

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 has 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