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Miracle grass as erosion-control hedge.

The National Research Council (NRC) has given the nod to the use of a grass native to India as a way of controlling erosion in tropical countries.

Worldwide, 20 billion tons of soil disappear each year - the equivalent of about 6 million hectares of arable land. But a tall, stiff grass called vetiver, which grows into a dense hedge when planted in lines along the contours of slopes, can slow runoff and prevent soil from washing oil slopes, according to "Vetiver Grass," an NRC report released in late January,

For almost a decade, a few agricultural experts have touted vetiver's value as an inexpensive panacea for erosion. The NRC panel examined the risks and benefits of introducing it in tropical countries.

For centuries, vetiver's roots have provided an oil used to scent perfumes and soaps. It is grown in 70 countries, but few use it for erosion control, the NRC panel reports.

In many ways, it seems like an ideal plant. Its stiff stems and leaves and deep roots enable it to function as a virtual dam even when dormant, and it survives for decades. Thus far, it has not spread or become a pest, as have other plants - such as kudzu - introduced to stop erosion.

However, the report cautions that only domesticated vetiver from South India- which produces no seeds and spreads by vegetative propagation - should be used, not the wild type from North India. The two types can be difficult to distinguish.

Vetiver typically grows wild in hot, humid climates, but it also survives in desert-like conditions and in poor soils.

Although it remains unclear whether vetiver hedges might significantly hamper the growth of adjacent crops, the hedges seem to have had no negative effect in cotton fields.

The NRC report also suggested that researchers evaluate whether this grass will prove useful as foliage along footpaths, railroads, and road cuts. The report surveys other plants that show promise for erosion control, including a perennial grass from Africa called the weeping lovegrass.
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Title Annotation:National Research Council reports vetiver grass effective in controlling erosion in tropical countries
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 6, 1993
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