Feature flora

COMMON NAMES-  English- vetiver (derived from Tamil- vettiver), Hindi- khus

SCIENTIFIC NAME-  Chrysopogon zizanioides

SPECIES CHARACTERISTICS

Vetiver is a grass in the poaceae family. It grows in large clumps and can reach up to 1.5 metres height. It has a brownish purple flower (although I have never seen one yet as my clumps are only two years old). Once established it is fairly drought resistant. Unlike most grasses, which form horizontally spreading root systems, vetiver’s roots grow downward as far even as some tree roots, 2–4 m in depth. Vetiver usually self-propagates by offsets and hence is non-invasive, however some genotypes are fertile and can become a nuisance. The most commonly used commercial genotypes of vetiver do not produce seeds which are fertile which means they don’t spread widely in the garden and are easily controlled.

DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT

Vetiver originally comes from India where it is popularly known as khus, and is cultivated widely in the tropics. It requires fairly warm climes and won't grow where there are prolonged periods of cold.

FASCINATING FACTS

I find vetiver one of the most useful plants in my garden.

Its roots are very fragrant and are used widely in men’s perfume products. I always find it very intoxicating when I smell it, mixed with the earthy smell of my red Algarve clay. In India, they use the root to make body scrubs, put it in lassi, and also make a mat of the roots to put in their doorways so the wind blows through and sweetens the air in the house.

Vetiver's very deep roots confer on it two more wonderful properties: it holds back soil, making a natural terrace, and it holds in water. In other words, it’s a living terrace wall-and a very pretty one at that! It’s a wonder plant for anyone gardening on a slope in a dry climate.

As vetiver grows rather tall, cuttings can be used for mulch, or for animal fodder. My chickens love hiding amongst the clumps during the heat of the day. I am thinking of using clumps of plants as living chicken proof fences down the bottom part of the garden where my chickens have free range!

One of the other benefits of vetiver is that it cleans the ground of pollution such as wastewater contaminated with chemicals or heavy metals. A wonder grass indeed!

JANE BREWER

Though originally from Britain Jane lives in the Algarve, Portugal, where she cultivates a sloped garden and blogs about her gardening adventures at http://gardeninginthealgarve.wordpress.com

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