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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mudslides, Fires and Vetiver Grass

Mudslides. Fires. It seems as if Southern California experiences these two plagues every year. And this year was no exception. We had terrible fires in the fall, and as our rainy season came upon us, many areas in the Southland experienced flash flood warnings.

The most dramatic memory for me was after my mother and I drove back from Palm Springs to Orange County. A few days after our trip, I saw on the news that the very transition road we traveled, from Highway 60 to Highway 57, had been closed due to a mudslide caused by heavy rains, saturated soil and fire damage.

All I could think of was, “Why are they not planting vetiver grass?”

What is vetiver, you ask? According to my friends Noel Vietmeyer and Mark Dafforn of the National Research Council, this little-known tropical grass is relatively cheap and effective at preventing soil erosion. When planted in lines along the contours of slopes, vetiver quickly forms narrow but very dense hedges. Its stiff foliage then blocks the passage of soil and debris, and slows any runoff, giving the rainfall a better chance of soaking into the soil instead of rushing off the slope.

You may remember the horrific 2005 mudslide in La Conchita, California (near Santa Barbara), in which 10 people lost their lives when an entire mountainside collapsed on top of homes. Well, that location was also home to the only banana plantation in the western United States – Seaside Banana Gardens. (Before the 2005 disaster, A 1995 mudslide knocked out most of this plantation.) Fortunately, the grower, Doug Richardson, only lost his bananas – he and his lovely family were spared. (Frieda’s used to market his Ice Cream Bananas, and others.)

Doug is still growing bananas, however. A few years back, he wrote us about the success of his planting of vetiver (and more exotic bananas), and we look forward to the day that we are once again selling California-grown bananas.

So, if I had a wish, it would be that someone reading this blog would pass this information along to the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Sunset Magazine and others, and that vetiver grass would get great publicity and be planted prolifically around Southern California so we NEVER have to worry about mudslides again.

So, please pass this information along…and I’ll keep you informed about how this message spreads!


Learn more about vetiver grass:
Vetiver Network International
Downloadable brochure


  1. Hi Karen,

    Plating exotic plants for a specific purpose often seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, many of these plants become noxious weeds and, once planted, are impossible to get rid of. Think kikuyu in the South or Water Hyacinth here in California. They both seemed like a good idea at the time and are now out of control. So we should think long and hard before planting vetiver or anything else. California already has a serious crisis of non-native plants supplanting natives. A better approach may be to refrain from building our homes and orchards below steep hillsides that are prone to slide after heavy rains.

    Best regards,


  2. The Vetiver used for soil conservation projects is non-fertile and will never become a weed. It is highly recommended by the US Dept of Agriculture and used worldwide for this purpose. It would be nice to have a native plant that was this effective. Unfortunately there is none. Check .

  3. Thank you for your comments. Love the dialogue!


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