Frequently Asked Bamboo Questions

Frequent (and Not so Frequent Bamboo Questions)

Climate Change and Bamboo

Question:   I was told that Bambusa Balcooa absorbs carbon for its first 5 to 7 years, and then does not absorb it anymore. I am interested in learning more about how much CO2 different tropical giant bamboos absorb. I am also interested in learning about different areas we can plant it here in the USA. I believe that bamboo will be a great tool in our fight against the climate crisis.

Reply: Indeed, bamboo, in newly established plantations, only accumulates carbon during the first years until it is fully established.

According to studies carried out by INBAR (International Bamboo and Rattan Organzation), carbon increase in new biomass of non-managed bamboos is almost equal to that lost due to natural decay and death of old bamboo stems so the net flux of carbon in and out of the system is zero.

A bamboo plantation will reach its maximum carbon holding capacity after 8 years for Moso and 5 years for Dendrocalamus latifolius (and other large tropical bamboos). A managed bamboo plantation could continue as an indirect carbon sink when the harvested bamboo is processed into long lasting products such as flooring, boards, beams; etc.

Bambusa balcooa is a tropical bamboo, native to Inda and Bangladesh, and is not suitable for growing in Continental USA with the possible exception of small areas in Florida and California. It also requires sufficient rainfall to grow well. Bambusa balcooa is planted in West African commercial plantations (Ghana) for the production of biomass and bamboo culms. These plantations are usually established on deforested and/or degraded land and are therefore beneficial for carbon sequestration.

A number of subtropical and  temperate bamboo species, such as Moso (Phyllostachys edulis) and other Phyllostachys species, can be grown successfully in the US for biomass and culms. Planting bamboo for biomass and culms could be commercially viable in areas where the climate and soil is appropriate and where there is sufficient commercial demand for bamboo.

To learn where bamboo can be grown in the US, you could cross check the growing conditions of bamboo species with the US 2023 plant hardiness map  https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/. Please consult the ABS Bamboo Species & Source List, available at https://www.bamboo.org/abs-publications/species-list/ , for information on bamboo species available in the US.

When it comes to fighting climate, bamboo is in itself not better or worse than other plants and trees. As a general rule, native ecosystems  are the best for absorbing and locking carbon. However, carbon contained in long lasting bamboo products from bamboo plantations is helpful in fighting climate change.