Bamboo is a group of perennial evergreens in the grass family Poaceae and includes the largest members of the grass family. There are more than 70 genera of bamboo divided into more than 1,450 species, of which only around 50 species are routinely cultivated. Native bamboo grows in many parts of the world, including East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas. Bamboo is not limited to tropical climates, with some species able to withstand frost and survive in Northern Europe.
Although technically a grass, bamboo exhibits a number of properties that make it a valuable species for reforestation and plantation initiatives, particularly in areas that have suffered high environmental and soil degradation. Unlike trees, individual bamboo culms are connected underneath the ground by a network of rhizomes, from which the culms grow, meaning that although individual culms are cut, the bamboo plantation remains productive.
There are two main categories of rhizomes: monopodial and sympodial. Monopodial rhizomes grow horizontally, often at a surprising rate, thus their nickname of ‘runners’ or ‘running bamboo’. The rhizome buds develop either upward, generating a culm, or horizontally, with a new tract of the rhizomal net. Monopodial bamboos generate an open clump with culms distant from each other and can be invasive. They are usually found in temperate regions and include the genera Phyllostachys and Pleioblastus. Sympodial rhizomes are short and thick, and the culms above ground are close together in a compact clump, which expands evenly around its circumference. These are known as ‘clumping’ bamboo and the development of clums around the core of the plant is predictable. Their natural habitat is tropical regions and they are not invasive. The clump size is self limiting and will not continue to increase past a certain size, dependnt on species and growing conditions. The plants can therefore be easily controlled. Sympodial bamboos include the genus Bambusa and Guadua.
Within clumping bamboo such as guadua, the intricate system of rhizomes means that bamboo forests are excellent at controlling soil erosion and have been shown to be particularly effective within water catchment areas. The international network of bamboo and rattan (INBAR) has shown that bamboo plantations have been used successfully to rehabilitate degraded land back in to productive fully functioning ecological systems.
For a detailed overview of bamboo, its ecology, uses and market, please see: Bamboo Worldwide Review (pdf 1.5Mb) and Dr Montagnini’s Report
Guadua is a genus of bamboo with consists of 30 species, occurring from Colombia up to Mexico. Within Nicaragua, native species of guadua are found across the tropical forests of the Atlantic Coast.
Other than the commonly used Chinese Moso bamboo, guadua is most economically developed and commercialized of the bamboo families, and represents high potential for commercial bamboo plantations in the native Latin America. Under optimal conditions select species can reach a height of around 30m, with a diameter of 20cm and reach maturity within 4 to 5 years.
Timber bamboos such as guadua provide exceptional opportunities for commercial reforestation initiatives through the development of integrated bamboo plantations, due to the multiple attributes of the plant as an alternative to traditional plantation species:
EcoPlanet only coverts degraded land that was deforested more than ten years prior to the start of any project in to bamboo plantations. Furthermore, standing areas of forest within the bamboo plantation area maintained as conservation areas with the aim of recreating as natural an ecosystem as possible whilst maintaining economic value. These conservation areas, approximately 20% of the total area will provide valuable habitat for numerous species of insects at the soil and tree layer, spiders, butterflies, birds and mammals such as sloths. The mix of plant species is important for maintaining high levels of nutrients in the soil, and a high degree of resilience of the ecosystem to weather events, disease and insect infestation.
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