Bamboo for Specific Uses

Erosion Control, Land Restoration & Other Ecological Uses

Bamboos have many important ecological roles in the native environments in which they have evolved. In addition, people around the world (and thoughout history!) have used bamboo to create, manage and restore landscapes. Some of the things they have been used for include: windbreaks, earthquake refuge, erosion and flood control, soil building, fire breaks, landslide prevention/hillside stabilization, carbon sequestration, phytoremediation of polluted soil, greywater and wastewater treatment, and as a vigorous pioneer plant where the land has been disturbed by fire, flood or landslide.


Erosion Control and Hillside Stabilization:

The root systems of bamboo are shallow, massive, fibrous networks that are very effective in holding soil in place. The following bamboos are particularly good for erosion control and soil stabilization.

Note that if you are planting on a very steep hill that needs stabilization, or a very steep bank, we recommend using the shorter species listed, as the cane weight of tall bamboo can actually overturn large chunks of soil, which is decidedly counterproductive!

Soil and Wastewater Remediation:

In addition to stabilizing soils, bamboo contributes organic matter, increases fertility, microbial biomass and carbon content of soils. Because it can thrive in problem soils and it grows so fast, it is particularly efficient in repairing degraded land.

Toxins in Soil – Bamboo is also effective at up-taking and binding toxins such as heavy metal pollution in soils. The dispersed environmental toxins are concentrated in the bamboo plant tissue, which then must be disposed of safely.

Greywater – Bamboo does quite well in drinking greywater. Household Laundry to Landscape greywater systems are a terrific solution in water-poor areas. (Be sure to use biocompatible laundry soap.) In France, there are some very interesting projects using harvestable bamboo plantations to remediate waste greywater from wineries. This could be a useful technique here in Northern California wine country!

Farm and Factory Waste – Because if its unique and fast growing nature, bamboo is an efficient plant for what is called ‘Plytoremediation’. Phosphates from factories and excess nitrates from livestock are eagerly slurped up by bamboo, which can in turn be harvested for other uses.

Did you know?

  • In Japan, a popular custom is to flee into a bamboo grove in an emergency, such as an earthquake or typhoon. The roots stabilize the soil and the canes are strong but incredibly flexible, creating a sort of flexible shield.
  • Also, groves of large timber bamboo have historically been used to create fire breaks. These groves shade out the understory of potentially flammable plant material, and their branches and leaves are high above typical fire level. The groves are maintained and regularly harvested for timber or shoots, so no dead, flammable canes are left – only green, living ones. In addition, bamboo canes are very high in silica content and low in volatile oils, so they do not catch fire easily when still ‘green’. When bamboo is well-maintained, clearing out dead wood or accumulated dead leaves does not in any way pose a fire hazard; in fact, some species have been used to create an effective fire break!