Vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides L.) is widely used in more than 120 countries for land management (e.g. rehabilitation of saline lands). A wild ecotype of vetiver grass was found in southern China in the 1950s, but little is known about its adaptability to saline stress. For the purpose of understanding its tolerance to salinity as well as corresponding tolerance mechanisms, in a greenhouse with natural lighting, seedlings were grown in culture solutions and subjected to a range of NaCl concentrations for 18 days.
Compared to no NaCl treatment, 200 mM NaCl significantly reduced leaf water potential, leaf water content, leaf elongation rate, leaf photosynthetic rate and plant relative growth rate and increased leaf malondialdehyde (MDA) content, but the parameters showed only slight reduction at 150 mM NaCl. In addition, salinity caused an increase in the activity of antioxidant enzymes in leaves. Moreover, increasing NaCl levels significantly increased Na(+) but decreased K(+) concentrations in both roots and leaves. The leaves had higher K(+) concentrations at all NaCl levels, but lower Na(+) concentrations compared to the roots, thereby maintaining higher K(+)/Na(+) ratio in leaves.
Our results showed that the salinity threshold of this wild vetiver grass is about 100 mM NaCl, i.e. highly tolerant to salt stress. This wild vetiver grass has a high ability to exclude Na(+) and retain K(+) in its leaves, which is a critical strategy for salt tolerance.