Vetiver and the carbon cycle

Carbon particles are the foundation of life. Continuously mistreating them (via human activity) will cause an imbalance in the cycle. Too much carbon in the atmosphere causes the earth to warm.

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing, securing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The idea is to stabilize excess carbon in solid and dissolved forms so it doesn't cause the planet harm.

When it comes to carbon sequestration, some plants are more efficient than others. As the clock counts down on climate change it makes sense to find and utilise the most effective plants.   

The carbon plants pull is stored in the leaves, stems and roots. A good amount makes its way into the soil.

Finding answers

I see a world that is unclear of a way forward. Politics that is distracted and dispondent. You can't blame governments for not knowing what to do. The earth hasn't been here before (recently). Watching humans flailing about trying to fix a man made problem with man made solutions seems hopeless.  

Human activity has taken carbon out of the ground. Now we have to put it back. If we knew how we would no longer have a problem. Vetiver is one of the very few plants that allow us to do this correctly. Correctly almost everywhere with the potential for fast results.       

Plants that grow above ground (most) cycle carbon through life and death.  The earths crust is largely made of carbon and is a stable place to store this element.

Vetiver is unique because the dense and very deep roots (4-6 metres deep) transfer carbon and store it in the earth for evermore.


I believe we should persistantly encourage everyone to be part of the climate change team. A team where everyone has a definate roll with checks. We all made this mess. We all need to be involved in the solution. Keeping it simple is key. I believe we need to stay focused on reducing emisions and planting the correct plants. All of us.   

There is no other plant like Vetiver grass.  No other method like the "Vetiver System". Please take your time to read this page.   



 Why exactly is Vetiver different to other plants? 


1) Underground carbon storage.  85% of Vetivers bio matter is underground. Plants store carbon in the soil and in the plant itself. The bulk of a Vetiver plants storage is in the dense root system 4-6 metres deep. A secure depth to add and store carbon in the earth. If the plant dies the roots are deep enough to be secure for carbon storage. The natural habit of every Vetiver plant is to send its root system straight down (not out like other grasses).  The photo lower on this page demostrates the volume of underground biomass associated with a mature Vetiver plant. Vetiver can be considered a true carbon sink.


2) Vetiver is a long living plant so it can sequester and store carbon for the long term. Records show Vetiver living over 200 years but is now thought to be perpetual.

3) Vetiver has an active rhizosphere.  This is a link allowing efficient carbon storage in the soil. See below for more information.

4) Warm climate compatible. As the earth warms and the carbon level rises our remediation plants will have to be compatible. Vetiver prefers temperatures from 10 – 50 degrees celsius (temperate to tropical). In an extreme drought event Vetiver may be the last plant standing. Concern has been raised for temperate NZ native plants and trees. A relatively small increase in temperature may cause them harm.

5) More plants per area. As a grass Vetiver can be planted very close together thus allowing maximum root volumes per area. A single Vetiver plant grows to around 700mm wide at the base and 1.5 metres tall once established.  

6)Plantable everywhere.  Above ground Vetiver has a relatively small top. This key attribute allows it to be planted everywhere by everyone. 

7) Vetiver is easy to grow. With a little care it is normal to expect zero losses after planting.   

8) Vetiver grows quickly.  A Vetiver plant is considered established after the first growing season (6 months). A large tree may take decades to grow (we do not have decades).  

9) Vetiver has zero weed potential.  No reproductive method at all. No flowers, seeds, rhizomes or suckers. Vetiver has no known pests or diseases.  

10)Wild fire proof. Vetiver will completely re-grow after being burnt to the ground (I hope this quality is not required).


11) Ground water/ erosion control.  Climate extremes are part of the effect. Excess water management, ground movement and erosion control are a speciality of the "Vetiver System".  Vetiver offers solutions to both the cause and effect of climate change.  

12) Low maintenance. Vetiver is very robust and will grow without maintenance but prefers a trim to 500mm high and a sprinkle of blood and bone fertilizer every year (or three) only in the spring.


 13) Adaptable.  Vetiver will grow on three quarters of the earth from temperate to tropical regions. 


"What we really need is plants like Vetiver that have extremely deep, high volume underground bio mass so larger amounts of carbon can be transported and dispersed in a secure location." 

The question is “If we planted enough plants could we stop gobal warming”? 

I believe that humanity will not reduce emmisions enough. Humans value comfort and money more.  What we can do is offset the growing population and thus increasing carbon emmisions with plants. We need to embrace the correct plants and then plant billions of them (world wide). It is fortunate that we have a lot of space available for this, infact almost unlimited potential. Vetiver can fit into everyones environmental landscape. The great thing is this is something we can all be involved in now.  

 Vetiver Rhizosphere

The area of soil surrounding the plant roots is a mini ecosystem known as the rhizosphere.

Many of the bacteria, fungi and microbes including mycorrhizal fungi live there. Whilst not all soil types and situations can be studied, research shows that the Vetiver rhizosphere is very active. This is a key link allowing the sequestered carbon to move from the plants roots to the soil.  A mature Vetiver plant has roots 4-6 metres deep. A secure depth for this process to take place.   

A strong rhizosphere helps to nourish both the Vetiver plant and neighbouring crops. Plants growing in the vicinity of Vetiver often demonstrate luxuriant growth. Vetiver does not tend to act like a weed as much of its water and nutrient requirements are coming from deep in the soil. A strong rhizoshere also helps to build soil structure, increase nutrition, assist with toxin remediation and protect the plant from drought and other stressors. 

The symbiotic cycle associated with mycorrhizae and the rhizosphere are – The host plant sequesters carbon, the nutrition supplies energy for the rhizosphere and photosynthesis and in turn the rhizosphere supplies the plant with water and nutrients.


Can trees cause global warming?

In short- Living trees are good. Dead trees are bad. As trees are burnt, harvested/milled/removed/pruned or rot much of the carbon is released. Recent reports show the Amazon forest is at times producing more carbon than sequestering because of land clearing activity.


In New Zealand short sighted government policy like the Emissions trading scheme (ETS)see economic incentives for planting pine trees. The main issue is that much of the carbon is released at harvest through timber processing and soil exposure. Thats not all. We are also selling the fertility of our land, pine trees heavily acidify the soil, during harvest and planting the exposed earth is not being managed correctly so the erosion and sediment create pollution way beyond the boundaries of the forest, no one is addressing the carbon used in harvest and delivery (machinery and transport).  Plus Pinus Radiata generally has a shallow root system, not considered to be a good carbon sink. It is supposed to be the NZ governments biggest green policy. Perhaps it should be called the Omissions trading scheme.

Thoughtful trees  

Environmentally planting any plant thoughtfully will help. The range of effectiveness varies greatly. What can we all do in our own back yard? I have nothing against well planned trees. Well planned because if the tree later requires removal all its carbon sequestering benifits are lost. Before planting a tree ask yourself- Will this tree take up too much space. Will it fit my total landscape plan. Will it end up consuming my view/light. For carbon sequesting purposes- Will it establish quickly. Is it a long living, deep rooting tree. Is it an evergreen that can actively sequester carbon year round?

The vast majority of plants on earth are small, they have a root system up to 50 cm deep. Whilst these small plants sequester carbon, they may not be considered a carbon sink as the roots are too close to the surface allowing the carbon to cycle through the life and death of the plant.  

It would be great if a NZ native plant had similar qualities to Vetiver grass. Generally, our temperate natives are not suited to a warming climate. The native deemed the most appropriate for this purpose is the NZ Totara tree. Totara is a long living tree, it has a deep root system and is likely to handle a warmer climate.

The root cause

A key difference between Vetiver and a tree is that 85% of a Vetiver plants bio mass is deep underground.  Vetiver stores carbon 4-6 metres deep in both the soil and within a very long living plant.  Much of a trees carbon storage is above ground making it vulnerable to milling, fire, rotting.  What we really require is plants with massive underground bio mass so carbon can be transported to a secure location.

 Lets say you have just 5 square metres available to plant something.  You could plant 1 tree or 125 Vetiver plants. Imagine the amount of underground carbon storage 125 Vetiver plants would provide in just 5 square metres. Visually it is quite nice to use Vetiver as a large ground cover and inter-plant slender trees or palms.  

Whilst Vetiver is valuable for carbon sequestration by itself, it could also offer double or multipurpose solutions at the same time.  Solutions for erosion, pollution, flood mitigation, hedging or landscaping plus a whole range of permaculture and farming applications. 

Vetiver will grow in most soils. From nothing but water through to nothing but sand (some establishment care may be required).  All Vetiver requires is sun. At least 4 hours of direct sun per day (if the sun was out all day). Vetiver is easy to grow and estabishes quickly. Vetiver will grow well in most areas of NZ north of Nelson, including all of the North Island. The Vetiver planting season in New Zealand is strictly from September until March.

At Vetiver Systems we realize that the act of exposing soil whilst digging can release carbon. This is one of the reasons why we developed the bio bag planting method. Using a Rapid Planter tool attached to a rechargeable drill, simply drill a small 7.5 cm wide hole and push the plant in with the biodegradable bag on.This allows minimal soil exposure while making the process easier, some even consider it fun.   

Farms and cities are carbon producing epicentres. Farm animals, food production, cars, commerce and homes are the source. Are we going to change?  Are we? What can we do now? These areas could be planted intensively with Vetiver. Vetiver grows quickly. Vetiver fits around farms and cities perfectly. It requires little planning and is easily maintained.  

Humanity is not acting with urgency. Experts agree that it is what we do this decade that decides whether the earth has a future or not. If a comet was hurtling towards earth, we would do whatever it takes to stop it. Just because climate change is a slightly slower comet, we seem to be quite relaxed. Perhaps the job just seems too big?  We don't have time to wonder what we should have done. I hope the goverment/s can lead every person to do their roll in climate change recovery.  I believe Vetiver is not just an amazing tool. Vetiver could be the climate change holy grailIt will only be effective if we embrace it and then work as a team.

 Planting plants may be the biggest thing we can all do to help the planet. We need to be conscious of our planting decisions because it matters now.

Contact us

Graydon Bell   

 Ph 021 2051387