Top 10 Reasons Why Bamboo is such an Amazing Plant
Can bamboo help save the planet? Yes, we believe it can!
> Of course, it would be naive to think that bamboo is the solution to all our global problems, but in terms of rehabilitation of degraded land, reforestation, carbon sequestration, and poverty alleviation, bamboo can certainly be part of the solution as it provides countless benefits that can play a very important role in at least 7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
> Read about the benefits of bamboo below, and discover why bamboo is such an amazing plant!
Bamboo is the Fastest Growing Plant on Earth
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth. According to Guinness World Records some species of bamboo can grow up to 91 cm per day, which is nearly 4 cm per hour. No other plant grows faster. Two examples of such fast growing bamboos are Moso (Phyllostachys edulis) and Madake (Phyllostachys bambusoides).
A new bamboo shoot will reach its full height in less than a year by going through several rapid spikes of growth. The largest bamboo species in the world is Dendrocalamus sinicus, which can grow up to 40 m in height and up to 30 cm in diameter.
While bamboo may grow taller than some trees, bamboo is not a tree but a group of plants that belong to the grass family. Bamboo plants come out of the ground with a fixed diameter and stems will not get thicker over the years (as is the case with trees). In addition, bamboo also doesn’t grow taller as it gets older. A fully grown 1 year old bamboo stem, however, is not considered mature yet. Depending on the species and diameter, it usually takes another 1 to 4 years for a bamboo stem to mature into a hard, wood-like material. The bigger the stem, the longer it will take to mature.
Another amazing feature of bamboo is that it is the only type of grass that can develop itself into a forest. Bamboo will constantly reproduce itself, even after harvesting new shoots will continue to sprout from its extensive root system without having to replant. Because of all these unique characteristics, bamboo is rightfully labeled as a highly renewable and sustainable resource.
Bamboo Provides and Endless Supply of Timber
Bamboo is a sustainable and renewable resource as it continuously spreads vegetatively. A bamboo forest will therefore develop much faster than tree forests.
In commercial forestry, trees have to be cut down and replanted. In bamboo plantations, only mature stems are selected for harvest while younger stems are left untouched to further mature and develop.
Approximately 20% of the total plantation inventory can be harvested every year without damaging the plant or its productivity. The underground root system remains in place which holds nutrients for growing new culms. In facts, selective harvesting actually helps to keep the bamboo forest healthy and highly productive.
Depending on the species, diameter, and final use, bamboo culms in a fully developed bamboo forest can be harvested at the age of 2-5 years. Hardwoods like oak take at least 40 years to mature.
If you plant bamboo today, in 7-10 years you could have high quality harvestable timber, and every year after for the rest of your life.
Bamboo Produces more Oxygen than Trees
We all know that trees are a crucial element in the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Many blogs and websites state that bamboo produces 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees. But is this really true, and which species were used to come to that conclusion?
I decided to dig a little deeper into the subject and found out that the amount of oxygen produced by a tree or bamboo is directly related to the amount of sequestered carbon. The formula for calculating the net oxygen production of trees or bamboo is the following:
net O2 release (kg/yr) = net C sequestration (kg/yr) × 32/12
Reports state that the average tropical tree sequesters 22.6 kg of carbon per year over a period of 10 years, whereas the average Guadua Bamboo clump will sequester 77 kg of carbon a year over a period of 7 years. However, a plantation of tropical trees counts on average 600 trees per hectare, whereas the average Guadua plantation will only count 278 clumps.
If we simplify the above data by translating the numbers to tons per hectare, then Guadua sequesters on average 150 ton carbon per hectare (7 years after planting), vs tropical trees with an average of 95 ton carbon per hectare (7 years after planting).
In net oxygen production this means 400 ton for Guadua vs 253 ton for tropical trees. So, in this comparison it can be concluded that bamboo produces 58% more oxygen than trees.
Now if we would swap tropical Guadua bamboo with temperate Moso bamboo than bamboo would produce 32% more oxygen than trees since Moso sequesters 45% less carbon than Guadua.
Bamboo is a Highly Effective Carbon Sink
Bamboo plants absorbs enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, and because of its rapid growth, bamboo is very useful as a tool for carbon sequestration.
When a single bamboo seedling is planted it will convert into a clump. In case of giant tropical bamboo, one newly planted bamboo plant can sequester 2 tons of carbon dioxide in just 7 years. In comparison, a typical hardwood tree will sequester 1 ton of carbon dioxide in 40 years. When compared to pine, bamboo can absorb up to 5 times more CO2.
If 10 million hectares of bamboo would be planted on degraded land throughout the world, then it is estimated that bamboo plants and their products could save more than 7 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 30 years. That is more than what 300 million electric cars could save in the same period of time.
Bamboo Produces Water for Rivers and Streams
Bamboo forests protect rivers and their ecosystems by regulating the quantity and quality of water. They form a sort of wall that serves as sediment control and to prevent the loss of flow in rivers.
Bamboo acts as a reservoir by collecting and storing large amounts of water in its rhizomes and stems during rainy season, and returning water to the soil, rivers and streams during droughts. One hectare of Guadua bamboo can store approximately 30,000 liters of water. Bamboo’s extraordinary ability to hold and control large amounts of water makes it a plant that can help reduce soil desertification.
The over-exploitation of wood has led to droughts all over the world, inevitably causing erosion and affecting the lives of people, animals and plants. Bamboo grows in a wide variety of environments, including drylands where drought is killing other crops. From low wetlands to higher altitudes in the mountains, bamboo can thrive in a wide range of climates.
The extensive root system and forest cover of bamboo prevents streams from evaporating and can raise groundwater levels within a few years. Research has shown how severely degraded soil (as a result of an intensive brick industry) has been restored after planting bamboo. Within 20 years, the groundwater level has risen by 10 meters, which made it possible to add agricultural crops and tree species into the bamboo landscape.
Bamboo Prevents Soil Erosion and
Restores Degraded Land
Bamboo is a great tool for soil protection due to its rapid growth, permanent canopy and huge network of roots and rhizomes. The root system that grows in the surface layer of the soil (20 – 60 cm deep), can reach up to 100 kilometers per hectare. Rhizomes can survive for more than a century, allowing the bamboo to regenerate even if the stems would be cut or destroyed in a fire or storm. Bamboo rhizomes are especially useful for binding topsoil and to prevent the erosion of slopes, riverbanks, degraded land, or to control areas that are frequently affected by landslides.
Bamboo leaves also play an important role in preventing the effects of rain as they help to disperse large raindrops into smaller particles. This contributes to the smooth distribution of groundwater throughout the forested area and thus greatly reducing the risk of runoff and erosion on slopes or hillsides.
Bamboo provides the soil with a lot of organic matter. Its large number of dry leaves, branches and stems help nutrient circulation, thereby maintaining the fertility of the soil in its physical and chemical aspects. In Colombia, studies revealed that planting Guadua bamboo in degraded soil improved soil quality and reduced soil compaction by more than half. The soil became more porous with better infiltration and a lower bulk density. As a result, ecological functions such as water regulation and nutrient recycling were restored.
Because bamboo can grow on marginal land, it can also be used to help restore areas that have degraded soil due to industrial use or mining. One of the amazing properties of bamboo is its ability to absorb and filter excess nutrients and fertilizers from pig / chicken pens, septic tanks, sugarcane fields, etc.
Bamboo Forests Create a Habitat for Fauna and Flora
Bamboo is an important part of a biodiverse ecosystem. Many animals such as the Giant Panda (China), Red Panda (China), Mountain Gorilla (Uganda/Rwanda), Sumatran Tiger (Indonesia), Lesser and Greater Bamboo Lemurs (Madagascar), Bale Monkey (Ethiopia), Bamboo Bats (China) and the Agile Gracile Opossum (South America) rely on bamboo for food and shelter.
In addition to the mammals mentioned above, there are also many insects, reptiles, amphibians and bird species associated with bamboo. The spotted bamboowren and the white-bearded antshrike are 2 examples of birds that are found almost exclusively in large bamboo forests in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
The temperature and dark atmosphere in mature bamboo forests, greatly favors the establishment of different animal species and understory plants that prefer to grow in such conditions.
Thousands of animals have lost their natural habitat as a result of extensive deforestation. Bamboo forests can quickly create suitable conditions for many of these animals. Bamboo can also be integrated into almost any mixed agriculture, agroforestry and aquaculture system without having to eliminate native vegetation.
Bamboo Provides Sustainable Biomass for the Production of Renewable Energy
- Bamboo chips
- Bamboo charcoal
- Bamboo pellets
- Bamboo briquettes
Bamboo is a sustainable energy source that produces 1 kWh of electricity from 1,2 kg of bamboo. This is similar to the biomass requirements for wood products, but outperforms other types of biomass sources such as hemp, bagasse or rice husk. Bamboo can produce an enormous amount of biomass in a relatively short period of time, which makes it an important reforestation resource in many countries.
Bamboo biomass can be used as a substitute for firewood as it is processed into various energy products such as charcoal, pellets and briquettes through thermal or biochemical transformations.
Charcoal is used in many countries. Studies show that the calorific value of bamboo charcoal is approximately 29 MJ/kg which is comparable to commonly used biomass resources such as spruce or eucalyptus. In addition, comparative life cycle assessments reveals that bamboo charcoal production is a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly option.
Pellets are also a reliable biomass energy source. In terms of mass and energy density, pellets from bamboo have characteristics that are superior to other biomass products, such as chips and briquettes. Its higher density makes transportation easier and more cost-effective. Bamboo pellets have a greater energy efficiency with good properties for domestic and industrial use.
Electricity can be generated from bamboo by gasification. This is a process that involves the combustion of biomass in a special unit that powers an electricity-generating turbine. Feasibility studies show that 2 bamboo poles of approximately 10 kg each, can provide enough energy for one family for 24 hours. The by-product that is produced from the gasification process is charcoal, which can be used for cooking or soil fertilization.
Biomass Calorific Value Comparison
- Biomass LHV MJ/Kg HHV MJ/Kg LHV Kcal/Kg HHV Kcal/Kg
- Bagasse 17,7 19,4 4230 4637
- Bamboo 19,0 19,8 4541 4732
- Birch 18,7 20,1 4469 4804
- Cherry 17,9 19,1 4278 4565
- Coconut 16,6 17,8 3967 4254
- Cypress 21,5 23,0 5139 5497
- Douglas 19,7 21,0 4708 5019
- Elm 19,0 20,5 4541 4900
- Eucalyptus 18,3 19,6 4374 4684
- Hemp 16,5 17,6 3944 4206
- Larch 18,7 20,1 4469 4804
- Maple 18,7 20,0 4469 4780
- Miscanthus 17,8 19,1 4254 4565
- Oak 17,4 18,8 4159 4493
- Pine 19,5 20,8 4661 4971
- Poplar 19,4 20,8 4637 4971
- Rice husk 14,2 15,4 3394 3681
- Spruce 18,5 19,8 4422 4732
- Switchgrass 16,8 19,1 4015 4565
- Teak 18,9 20,2 4517 4828
- Willow 17,3 18,6 4135 4445
Values are for the lower (LHV) and higher heating value (HHV) on dry basis.
Source: Energy Research Center of the Netherlands
Bamboo can Replace Wood for any Application
Bamboo can replace wood in almost any application. Today, there are thousands of bamboo products that completely replace wood, ranging from paper and pulp products, flooring, musical instruments, furniture, construction materials, and so on. In addition, bamboo fibers are much stronger than wood fibers and less likely to deform due to changing atmospheric conditions.
Bamboo is a great alternative to traditional timber as it develops quickly into a hard, wood‐like fiber. Bamboo stems reach maturity at 2-5 years versus 10-20 years for most softwoods. Virtually every part of the bamboo plant can be used to make a variety of products. The hardness and strength properties of bamboo will vary and largely depend on the species, origin and type of processing. Some bamboos are extremely “hard” and have been compared to oak and maple.
Every year, 30 million hectares of forests are lost as a result of worldwide deforestation. As a versatile substitute for hardwood, bamboo offers the opportunity to drastically reduce this figure and to protect endangered tropical forests. The fact that bamboo grows back after harvest without the need for replanting is an enormous advantage. Combined with the ability of creating strong, beautiful and durable products that can be recycled as agglomerate or a source for green energy, makes bamboo an essential renewable resource.
Bamboo Reduces Poverty and Provides Livelihoods for Local Communities
The bamboo sector plays an important role in the livelihoods of local farmers. Developing a stable bamboo industry is a great way to help reduce poverty, increase economic opportunities for men and women, and to fight global unemployment.
In less developed countries, unemployment has often resulted in conflicts and social unrest. The production and manufacturing of bamboo products can contribute to a more socially and economically stable environment as it creates job opportunities in areas that are most affected. Through small businesses, social enterprises and community groups, bamboo can generate new sources of income and a better quality of life for rural people.
Bamboo is considered as one of the most valuable non-timber forest products in the world. With the use of traditional hand tools and fairly simple techniques, bamboo can be transformed into basic products. These products along with the raw materials can be sold in local markets, which provides an excellent resource in remote areas where non-agricultural income opportunities are limited.
Bamboo is an easy to grow crop that provides annual income to some of the poorest communities in tropical and subtropical regions. Farmers and foresters who can regularly harvest raw materials, animal feed and fuel from bamboo stands are under less economic pressure to exploit tropical forests in an unsustainable manner, especially if bamboo is growing nearby.