VETIVER NETWORK (EMVN)
A Periodic Newsletter
Number 4 November, 2000
Vetiver Network's Patron
The Vetiver Network has been honoured by the announcement that Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand has accepted to become the Patron of TVN. HRH demonstrated her personal interest and commitment to the work of TVN during the International Vetiver Conference held in Thailand earlier this year. This continues a family involvement initiated by her father, King Bhumipol and late grandmother. HRH's acceptance to become Patron of TVN is an important milestone in the international recognition accorded to TVN.
The Royal Danish Government has made a generous grant to TVN in support of dissemination of technical information. These funds will be used to maintain TVN's newsletters, home page, reprinting of technical handbooks, production of CD-ROMs, etc. Some of these funds will be granted by TVN to national and regional networks to help them produce technical data specifically for their areas of operation. This will be a real boost to our ability to disseminate information within EMVN. From our point of view, translations of vital documents, such as the little green handbook, have been made in the past in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French. Perhaps, we might see an Arabic version in the future when demand justifies it. I will keep recipients informed as and when documents become available. Meanwhile, I invite comments in regard to the production of technical data specific to EMVN. Other CD-ROMs are also being produced. Requests for these should be accompanied by an explanation as to how they will be used for widespread technology dissemination. I should also mention that the network permits us to maintain close links with vetiver activities in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries of Central and South America. From time to time documents become available in these languages that could be passed on within EMVN. In sum, EMVN 'rides' on the back of other regions in the production of printed material. Portuguese language material will be initiated by the Brazil Network; Spanish productions by Latin America countries and French productions by the French-speaking West African countries. Dr. Vito Sardo translated the small green handbook into Italian some years ago and it is hoped that this will also be included in the documents produced under the Danish grant.
Training Course - Thailand
I had hoped, from interest expressed, that EMVN would be represented on the First International Vetiver Training Course by, at the very least, two representatives from Turkey, two from Portugal and one from Italy. Regrettably, it seems that Dr. Pino Mossa from Sardinia will be EMVN's only representative. The objective is that all those participating will actively promote the VS on their return to their home countries hopefully through the establishment of trials, demonstrations and practical applications The next Newsletter will include excerpts from Dr. Mossa's report, which will focus especially on the VS relative to the climatic circumstances of Southern Europe and the Northern Mediterranean, and whatever report is produced by the Royal Development Projects Board in Thailand.
Strategy of Funding Use
There is no doubt that the greatest need within the Network is to extend into practical usage the proven technical methodologies that have been developed. The use of the funds donated by Heineken Breweries to promote the operation of the First International Training Course fits perfectly within this philosophy. Even in EMVN, where the impact of the technology must necessarily be much less than in tropical and sub tropical regions we clearly know much of the parameters under which the VS can effectively flourish and we know much as to how the Vetiver System can be effectively employed. The challenge is to disseminate and apply this knowledge and experience. Hopefully, the product of the training course will be a number of people spread throughout the global network, knowing a great deal more of the technology who will hopefully act as catalysts of development in their home countries.
Of course, there is much that we have yet to learn about the possibilities of this remarkable plant. And, indeed, it is important that research work should be expanded and intensified into finding out some of the answers to the many questions remaining unanswered about vetiver usage. Meanwhile, TVN has surely made the right decision by giving top priority to training and extension.
One interesting piece of correspondence that occurred since the last Newsletter was in regard to an enquiry from a large European, multinational food processor that uses vetiver oil in its food grade products.
At issue was the fact that two quite separate oils are produced from the wild roots of plants, from Northern India on the one hand (khus oil), and from cultivated roots from Southern India (Oil of Vetiver) on the other. The differences are important in the food industry which must abide by strict standards set, in the case of Europe, by the EC.
The correspondence was complicated by the base enquiry which sought clarification regarding the difference between Vetiveria zizanioides (L.) Stapf and Vetiveria zizanioides (L.) Nash. It seems that the former is a bibliographical error and some clarification is therefore required under the EC code. Enough said on a rather complicated botanical matter in a chatty Newsletter such as this.
The differences in oil composition have clearly been linked to plant type, not to any environmental difference. Oil of Vetiver is the common oil of commerce. The two types of oil differ in aroma and physical and chemical properties.
Incidentally, as a result of Dr. J. de F. Veldkamp's work in The Netherlands in 1999 http://user.aol.com/vetivernet/vip/cziztax.htm the genus Vetiveria was reduced to the genus Chrysopogon: However, don't despair, I feel sure that our Networks will stick with using the name Vetiveria, for the foreseeable future.
In writing the above I have drawn extensively from correspondence that I received from Dr. Mark Dafforn of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S.
Heavy Metals Absorption
Readers will be well aware of Paul Truong's most valuable and fascinating research on the tolerance of vetiver to high quantities of heavy metal toxicity. Furthermore, he has shown that, for the most part, these toxins are sequestrated in the roots with only quite small quantities passed to the leaves. In this context I was interested to read the following extract from a 'Survey article' in The Economist magazine of July 1st, under the title "The Human Genome". "Plants are also being investigated for use in cleaning up sites polluted by heavy metals. Cadmium, copper, mercury and so on are poisonous to most creatures, but some plants have proteins called phytochaltins which bind them up and squirrel them away in places where they can do no harm. The genes for the enzymes that make phytochaltins have now been identified, and several groups of researchers are working on transferring them into species that can be grown on the polluted ground and perhaps even harvested to recover the metal." This is all way over my head but fascinating reading nonetheless. One wonders whether the concept of actually harvesting heavy metals that have been sequestrated in the roots of plants could apply to vetiver. It also begs the question that I asked Paul Truong some time ago as to what might be the absorbency limits of vetiver to various toxic heavy metals. At this stage, it seems, we don't know the answer. Furthermore, Paul tells me that science has not yet determined 'how' vetiver absorbs and tolerates these toxins in the first place. All we know is that it does! Vetiver is by no means alone as a 'superaccumulator' for specific metals. It is simply yet another attribute of this remarkable plant and, because of its unique morphological characteristics makes it especially suitable for consideration by those charged with ensuring that areas of heavy metal build-up like municipal and industrial waste dumps do not spread their pollution to the danger of man.
Cortaderia seloana (pampas grass)
Two years ago I established a 10m hedge of Cortaderia seloana plants (pampas grass), spaced at 10cm intervals. I had the slips to hand and thought the comparison with a vetiver hedge would be interesting to observe. I trim the hedge periodically and cut out the seed plumes. Now, the hedge is formidably strong and would, I think, bring a young rhino to a juddering halt, let alone storm run-off! To even mention C. seloana may be heresy in our circles but it is, nevertheless, interesting to observe the effectiveness of this vegetative barrier, using a plant that is common in Southern Europe. Of course, I am not advocating its use, other than perhaps for soil conservation in garden horticulture. It has saw-toothed leaves and reportedly produces viable seeds. Conceptually, however, I believe we should be widening our horizons, particularly in such marginal vetiver areas as Southern Europe, for suitable alternative narrow stiff grass hedges that can fulfil the role of vetiver.
For the benefit of others who are establishing demonstration sites it may be helpful to list what is incorporated within my quite small nursery.
The C. Seloana hedge is mentioned above.
Five lines of vetiver hedges, spaced at 10cm intervals, demonstrate the vetiver hedgerow technology. Lines are spaced some 2m apart to allow viewers to walk freely between the hedgerows.
These vetiver hedgerows are planted on the somewhat level area of the nursery plot. Thus, they demonstrate the concept rather than the practical application which is done elsewhere on steep roadside plots.
Vetiver mulching is demonstrated by spreading the trimmings from the multiplication component of the nursery between the rows. This keeps weeds in check, retains moisture and makes it pleasant for visitors to walk on.
The main body of the nursery consists of the multiplication component. Double rows are planted 30cm on the square. Between each set of two rows a space of 60cm is left to allow for flood irrigation of young plants in their first year of growth. Various trimming regimes are demonstrated.
I have provided no water at all for these plants throughout the 5+ drought months of our Mediterranean climate. Precipitation in the months when we receive rain amounts to some 450 mm per annum. Nevertheless, the plants are some 2m high, green even at the end of summer and look excellent. The key is all in 'tender loving care (tlc)' during the first year's growth. I have observed no disease or pests and no seed heads have formed. Snails which abound in our garden and do much harm to vegetables and other plants do not appear to like vetiver. Incidentally, these snails are much valued for eating by local Portuguese. However, voles and mice do like the cover provided by the vetiver until the recent arrival of our two mobile rat catchers.
There is rather a modest demonstration of the effect of tree shade on vetiver plant growth. This is quite an important aspect, particularly relevant to the planting of vetiver hedgerows in steep forested land so it is more the 'idea' that is being demonstrated rather than anything substantive.
Next comes the DNA trial of a number of different vetiver accessions that we are growing for Dr. Bob Adams of Baylor University, Texas. One of the interesting aspects that has arisen, perhaps by accident, in this trial is that a few plants have commenced growth in a somewhat star-like, horizontal manner. Later, these plants resume their vertical growth, by which time they have established a wide base diameter which results, in the long term in a large clumpy plant. If this was the norm they might not be particularly suitable for use on steep slopes where rapid vertical growth is required.
An expansion of the main multiplication area has allowed me to demonstrate exceptional growth due to higher levels of tlc, and organic and inorganic fertilisers.
A more recent demonstration is of 'strip' or 'instant' planting using the technique that Paul Truong taught me during his visit here two years ago. Of course, this is a demonstration that will have to be renewed periodically as it is applicable only for young plants.
At most times of the year there are potted plants at various stages of growth. Last year I experimented by planting some plants in their pots with the bottoms only cut open. This is not a good practice as root growth is restricted by the remaining cylindrical plastic. I will not repeat it!
Planned for next year will be more precise demonstrations of organic and inorganic fertiliser applications.
Demonstrations in Portugal
We have now established a number of demonstrational sites in Southern Portugal. Two demonstrate soil stabilization through the establishment of vetiver hedgerows on roadside slopes, one on the slope above a main country road and one below a main town road on an embankment. Another demonstration is on agricultural land visible from nearby development. A series of demonstrations are located within the Coordinator's nursery area. It is planned that some of these will be incorporated as field visit locations within environment conferences organised by the local authority. One local authority has even established vetiver on two town round-abouts for decorative purposes. The plants look well and attract attention. This body intends to use vetiver to protect against toxic seapage on municipal waste dumps.
Optimal Planting Times
As has been stated before in these Newsletters we are still in a learning process regarding optimal application of vetiver technology for our EMVN climatic conditions. There is little doubt that the optimal planting time, in Southern Portugal for example, is in the Spring after ground temperatures have warmed up to 14º C. or more. Thus, planting is best carried out in March through June. Our hot and dry July and August conditions are not ideal for planting. Under these conditions it is probably best to use plants that have been potted earlier. They will survive the hot conditions better. The cut off date for planting is probably about end September/early October. Plants planted at this time have sufficient time to become established before dormancy sets in which is likely to be November/December. It must be emphasised yet again that tender loving care is required in the first year and ideally for the first two years.. Thereafter, roots will have become established at depth and the plants can be left to look after themselves, even with precipitation of less than 400 mm per annum and 5-6 months drought. One more continual bleat is to fill in gaps in vetiver hedgerows as soon as they are observed. Unfilled gaps create focal points for potential gullying and defeat the whole principle of a continuous barrier against downward flow of water and soil in suspension.
Water Build-up Behind Hedgerows
A closely planted, well established hedge with no gaps will hold back considerable quantities of water and soil in solution. Dependent upon circumstances, i.e. slope, flash flood intensity etc. the water that builds up will move to the ends of the vetiver hedge where it will spill out and where it may result in the creation of gully erosion. There appear to be two solutions. Either the ends of the contour hedge can be continued up the slope for a short distance to create confining barriers or the water passing out at the end of the barrier hedge can be channeled into a water-way containing a ground cover to protect against erosion.
Our EMVN may be at the fringe of vetiver technology but it never ceases to amaze me how effectively our overall global vetiver networking operates so that we function as an integral cog within the networking machine. One example that surprised me recently was a contact from Chile from Mauricio Calderón. Hitherto I had not thought of a technical relationship between Chile and EMVN. However Maurice's concerns are with gully erosion control in areas whose annual precipitatioon can be lower than 250-300 mm. Chile has a wide Mediterranean climate along its central valley. Hence our experiences now and in the future in such countries as Spain, Greece and the Magreb countries can be valuable indicators to the problems that Maurice is tackling. This is just one example of how our networking operates. For the most part, EMVN is a net recipient of information but as usage increases in our region our experiences may be useful elsewhere.
For some time there has been an assumption that there may be a potential symbiosis between vetiver and mycorrhiza. Why is it, one may ask, that vetiver has such remarkable characteristics that it can survive and prosper under such a wide range of soil and climatic conditions? Could it be that that there is an interrelationship with mycorrhizal growth. TVN's Newsletter No 7 of November 1991 included an article on this subject by Dr. John C. Dodd of the University of Kent. More recently, a Study on Soil Microbial Biodiversity in Rhizosphere of Vetiver Grass in Degrading Soil by Vanlada Sunanthapongsuk et al was publicised, though not presented, at the International Vetiver Conference in Thailand in January. This indicates that there may indeed be a symbiosis between vetiver and mycorrhiza resulting in improved vetiver performance. Clearly, the matter needs further research but the indications are interesting. It may be that, in the future, we will consider inoculating vetiver plants to promote active growth. Incidentally, it is interesting to record that in the case of the above study an increase in non-symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria and phosphate solubilizing micro-organisms was recorded in these trials. Other interesting phenomena recorded in the vetiver locations were increases in soil organic matter and quantities of released phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur. Furthermore, the pH of the soil moved to a more neutral status from one of acidity. This is clearly an area in which further research would be valuable and justified. How about it, someone?
Vetiver in Temperate Locations
Of interest to us in EMVN is a communication I received from Professor Liyu Xu recently. He notes that: "In the Spring of 2000, over 30,000 vetiver tillers were transported to Nanyang City of Henan Province which is considered as one of the northern provinces of China. The city is situated on the 40 degree North latitude. Under somewhat continental climate the highest temperature can reach over 40º C. and the lowest temperature was usually -10ºC to -14ºC with absolute minimum of -20ºC. The test showed that although the grass did not grow as fast as in the southern part of the country it still reached 150 cm in one growing season and no other grasses in the area could match it. They also found that vetiver cannot tolerate shade." This is valuable information to us in EMVN and I will ask Professor Liyu Xu to keep us appraised of developments.
Oakland near San Francisco, CA has an almost identical climatic image to Southern Portugal. So, we should be taking note of VS devlopments in that part of the world. Since the last newsletter I have established contact with two Californian users of the VS. Vetiver was first introduced some years ago.
The Eden Projectt
In September we supplied the Eden Project in England with a consignment of vetiver slips. Information can be found on this project at http://www.edenproject.org. It is a large and very exciting £80 million Millenium project located near St. Austell in Cornwall. It seeks to demonstrate man's association with plants and trees, past, present and future. The architecture is dramatically 21st Century with huge domes (biomes) that house the various plant collections. The architects are Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners. Nicholas is Dick's cousin.
It is principally located in a disused 7 ha china clay pit, 60 meters deep and into which 35 football pitches could be fitted. The whole site, including above ground facilities covers some 40 ha. Three of the world's climatic zones are housed in the huge spherical conservatories which are some of the biggest in the world, reaching 45m high, 200m long and 100m wide. Seven of the nearby Truro cathedrals would fit into one of the biomes. Each transparent, foil, roofing panel is independently designed and has a bigger area than a car.
Eden Project management is interested in the role of the Vetiver System in addressing some of the very important environmental problems that we face in our world. I will, therefore, visit the project in December and hope to interest management in incorporating a significant demonstration of the multiple roles that the VS can play globally and of its many subsidiary uses. The next EMVN Newsletter will include a report on my visit. Meanwhile, readers visiting England might like to consider including a visit to the Eden Project in their itineraries.
I have mentioned in earlier Newsletters Sandy Robertson's very successful vetiver establishments in Southern Portugal. One problem he is experiencing is moles which completely eat through the roots leaving large gaps in his hedgerows. The soil is alluvial and soft on account of the drip feed irrigation. These are, of course, ideal conditions under which the moles prosper. Sandy's solution, which appears to be working, is to place a 'KLERAT B' tablet into a hole that has to be dug into each tunnel as soon as earth movement is identified above ground, indicative of mole tunnelling. The tablet dissolves to create a gas that kills the moles. Does anyone have any better solution?
There have been conflicting comments on the issue of rats, and of snakes that may pursue them, in relation to vetiver hedges. Clearly, a well grown vetiver hedge does provide an excellent habitat for rat colonies to become established. A vetiver nursery, much more than a single line hedge, provides a large, cool, and protected area which is an ideal place in which rat colonies can become established.
My own nursery, in Southern Portugal, is host to considerable numbers of field mice which enjoy eating the nearby vegetables and fruit.
To what extent rats like eating into vetiver crowns and roots appears not yet to have been established. Rat colonies that do become established in vetiver hedges can clearly represent a threat to nearby plants, vegetables, fruit and young tree seedlings.
Not everyone is eager to encourage snakes, given that they can be encouraged in the first place and mobile rat catchers in the shape of cats are only really relevant to garden use of vetiver hedges.
Under normal management it is desirable to cut back (trim) vetiver plants to encourage tillering and root growth and this alone should discourage rat colony establishment, especially if conducted in say October through December as it will leave little cover for the rats over the critical, colder months.
Controlled burning is undoubtedly the best alternative since fire will totally rid the area of rat infestation and the vetiver will rejuvenate again strongly if provided with adequate moisture. Naturally, with vetiver plants producing 2 meters of above ground biomass, care has to be taken to protect against the fire spreading if trimming has not been carried out before introducing fire.
An article in Vetiverim's Newsletter Number 13 of July 2000 records the experiences of Drs. Liyu Xu, Diti Hengchaovanich and Paul Truong in regard to rat infestation. From time to time farmers complain of snakes being attracted to vetiver and there are various references to this in past TVN Newsletters. Diti believes this is on account of the snakes pursuing the rats, not necessarily that snakes find the vetiver itself attractive.
Comments, experiences and solutions to this topic are welcome.
The value of a vetiver hedge as a windbreak is well known. In a recent edition of the EMVN Newsletter I mentioned the effectiveness of hedges that Sandy Robertson had established in March 1999 to protect his avocado trees in Southern Portugal.
A twist to this aspect of vetiver use is the problem of excessive shading that may occur to plants or fruit trees for example that may be growing adjacent to the vetiver windbreak. A solution which is pictorially demonstrated in one of Paul Truong's CDs is to tie the upper vetiver leaves in clumps to allow sufficient sunlight to penetrate whilst still obtaining windbreak effectiveness through the lower hedge density.
An interesting case of comparative plant growth in young avocado tree seedlings protected by vetiver hedgerows occurred earlier in the year on Sandy's farm. He had trimmed only part of a vetiver hedgerow. The young trees down-wind of the trimmed hedge show much reduced growth compared to those receiving protection from the 2 meter hedge. However, the obvious conclusion cannot necessarily be drawn. This is because some wild plants that have a water demanding horizontal root system grow close to the weaker avocado trees. They may be causing or contributing to the problem of weaker tree growth. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to conclude that the vetiver hedgerow is having a generally beneficial effect.
Dr. Narong Chomchalow generously sends me several copies of each edition of the quarterly Newsletter produced by the Pacific Rim Vetiver Network. In the past, I have distributed only a few of these but would happily do so if those interested would request copies. However, there is a small catch which is that I must request those interested in receiving spare publications that cross my desk to send in a donation to our scanty EMVN funds.
I have received the following from Quinta Antiga Actividades Agrícolas Lda., located near Lagos, Algarve, Portugal, [email protected] "With the guidance of Wageningen University (Holland), experiments with 'in vitro culture (IVC)' were carried out. After one year of evaluating different systems and chemical compositions, a practical way of mass-producing young vetiver plants is now operational. In the traditional way of vetiver production the slips take about 2 months after planting before growth starts and the first shoots start to show. Vetiver plants produced by the IVC method are already growing and, after planting, will continue to grow as long as there are reasonable growing conditions (i.e. outside the winter period). Therefore, they establish much quicker than slips produced in the traditional way. IVC plants can be planted either directly in the soil, or in plastic bags/pots, with compost and manure for best results."
Publicising the Vetiver System
I was delighted to be invited to contribute an article on the Vetiver System for the Autumn Journal of The Farmers Club of Whitehall, London. It appears in the Autumn edition. The VS has no direct application in the U.K. but many who read the Journal have influence and are interested in countries where the technology is applicable. I have received a number of contacts from readers of the article who have asked for further information.
The Vetiver Systems that we promote have only been developed over the past two decades. So , inevitably, few decision makers, scientists or academics know of them. Publishing articles in quality publications is one way of getting the technology better known. I would welcome suggestions as to other publications in our region to whom we might offer articles. In Italy, for instance, Claudio Zarotti has arranged the publication of articles in quite a number of publications. I feel we should be doing more in this regard in such countries as Spain, Greece Turkey and Morocco, for instance.
News from the Region
Since publishing the last Newsletter I have received expressions of interest in the VS from contacts in Israel and Greece. Vetiver was first introduced to Israel some years ago and there is no doubt that the VS has considerable application in countries bordering the Southern Mediterranean and including, for instance, Turkey.
Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man
For some time now I have been looking for someone to help me out in the management of EMVN. Harry Nijpels has come forward and I think he is just the person to improve the quality of regional productions, improve office administration and, above all, pursue channels whereby EMVN could become self-financing. Harry studied chemistry and Business Administration. He has recently purchased a property in Southern Portugal where he expects to spend more time than his native Netherlands. If readers notice improved quality of presentations, give the credit to Harry!
Stop Press - Research Grant
I have just received information from Joan Miller/Jim Smyle in Washington regarding the generous award of US$100,000 to TVN by the William Donner Foundation to support the research grant program.
In anticipation of the Third International Conference on Vetiver in China in 2004, TVN wishes to encourage research on the theme "Vetiver and Water". TVN will award grants totaling $45,000 for research on water-related aspects of vetiver. TVN will fund up to 50% of the proposed research, the remaining 50% to be provided by additional sources. Applications for funding under $2,000 are strongly encouraged, and small enabling grants ($100 - $1,000) are especially favoured, as is collaborative and interdisciplinary research. The maximum funding for an individual grant is $9,000, which with matching funds would require a total budget of at least $18,000.
Additional information is available on the HomePage or by direct contact to [email protected] or EMVN. It is to be hoped that there will be some application of these funds within EMVN.
HomePage & EMVN Coordinator
Information with EMVN section, Newsletters, etc. is on the WebSite: https://www.vetiver.org. I will be travelling overseas between December 20th and March 3rd. During that period the tel/fax will be disconnected; e-mails will receive somewhat delayed attention. Michael Pease [email protected].