What’s So Bad About Bamboo?


Bamboo is a highly aggressive, invasive exotic plant species. It owes its reputation to the fact that it is the fastest-growing class of grass on earth. Bamboo can choke natural vegetation in a brief period, effectively crowding out native flora. It is imperative to realize that it is challenging to get rid of bamboo once it has taken root.

Which Type of Bamboo is Safe to Grow?

There are more than fifteen hundred flourishing species of bamboo on earth. These grasses are from the Poaceae family of vegetation and can present as clumper- or runner varieties with different characteristics and capabilities. Maintaining and regulating the spread of either cultivar is of utmost importance.

CLUMPERS

Sympodial or clumper bamboo is from the genus Fargesia and is a less intrusive option with a network of short, sturdy roots and stalks. The root system sends outshoots or rhizomes that sprout a few inches apart in the ground. Clumping varieties can grow from one to two feet in a year.

Examples such as Chinese Fountain Bamboo and Green Panda planted in gardens as privacy screens and noise barriers. Slender Weavers Bamboo and Dwarf Blue Bamboo are also used for this function as they have enormous aesthetic appeal.

RUNNERS

Runner bamboo is monopodial and hail from the Phyllostachys genus. It is reputed to grow and spread prolifically.

Running bamboo can grow from three to five feet taller in a single year, with the shallow, horizontal root system producing new culms or canes at an astounding speed during the growth season. Running bamboo can lead to a garden becoming overrun and the natural biodiversity coming under threat quickly.

You can manage runners to an extent by planting the bamboo in an appropriately fortified container or within the circumference of specially designed growth barriers. Pruning foliage and mowing down emergent runners can also be of limited use.

Examples of runner bamboo include Phyllostachys Aurea, Golden Bamboo, and Phyllostachys Nigra, Black Bamboo.

How Does Bamboo Harm the Environment?

Some bamboo lovers believe that if you can’t do it with bamboo, it’s probably better left undone. Apart from the obvious usefulness in the garden, bamboo is, in fact, uniquely suitable for the construction of scaffolding and utilization in the manufacture of flooring, building material, fabrics, and more.

Conversely, not all horticulturists sing the praises of bamboo. In recent years, the increase in the popularity of grass has revealed some worrying environmental concerns.

DEFORESTATION AND SOIL EROSION

Although regarded as more suited to a tropical or subtropical climatic region, bamboo has spread to over an approximate 70% of the earth’s locations. Most species tolerate mild to cold temperatures well and can withstand drought conditions without adverse effects. Additionally, the extensive root system of the bamboo, employing rhizomes, effectively restricts soil erosion by keeping the topsoil intact. 

However, the sheer versatility and adaptability of bamboo render it a global threat to naturally growing forests. Extensive forests of indigenous trees are declining thanks to farmers who wish to create space for rampantly spreading bamboo plantations.

Local bird-, animal- and insect species are paying the price, with many of those affected having to migrate to alternative habitats or dying off as a consequence. Similarly, several plant species are facing extinction as a direct result of extensive bamboo cultivation. 

POLLUTION

  • Bamboo manufactures 35% more breathable oxygen than naturally growing trees do. It also expends more harmful carbon dioxide and is biodegradable. When bamboo sheds its leaves, leaf drop can be gathered and utilized as mulch or compost in the garden and contains much-needed nutrients.

Still, as bamboo is imminently perishable and disposed to deterioration after being harvested, decomposition of plant material adds to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, adversely impacting global warming. Given the multipurpose and ever-growing utilization of bamboo in many communities, this can very well translate to massive detrimental environmental influence in the future. 

  • In its native state, bamboo has the unique ability to remove many toxic compounds and metals from the earth through a process called phytoremediation.

However, bamboo is particularly susceptible to fungi and bacteria. Artificial, commercial cultivation of bamboo utilizes pesticides and herbicides to safeguard against unwanted plant and animal intruders. In this instance, harmful chemicals leach into the surrounding earth and contaminate the soil. Contagion can lead to the ground becoming infertile and inoperative for generations to come.

In the event of harmful substances spilling into water sources, pollution often leads to the loss of potable drinking water and the demise of various aquatic species in this regard.

  • Bamboo, which is grown and processed for usage as building materials, contains allergens that can lead to severe respiratory issues. In poorly treated flooring materials, volatile organic compounds may also cause headaches in individuals prone to allergic reactions.

Similarly, formaldehyde and arsenic used to treat harvested bamboo can cause breathing problems and other severe conditions in some people, despite the absence of prior medical dispositions. 

Are There Other Disadvantages to Growing Bamboo?

  • Dead, dried-out bamboo stalks and leaves are immensely flammable. Some varieties, such as Katas, found in the Ratanmahals Forest of India, are highly combustible during the green blooming season, posing a severe fire risk.
  • Most bamboo species originally hail from China and Japan and are an essential part of Asian cuisine.

Bamboo is low in calories, fat, and cholesterol; it is a comprehensive source of dietary fiber, protein, iron, zinc, and a long list of additional beneficial minerals and vitamins.  

Alas, the flipside of the coin shows bamboo as an actual danger to food security in many rural areas plagued by hardship. Although economically viable, the cultivation of bamboo crops has harmed traditional farming and forestry enterprises that utilize the same habitat.

Trees and plants that traditionally supply materials for herbal medicines and dietary sustenance are destroyed by encroaching bamboo initiatives, leaving locals without a reliable source of food and traditional remedies.

  • As an additional concern, regular income from reliable farming activities has declined as consumers turn to bamboo as a viable alternative, rendering struggling societies even less prosperous than before.   
  • Bamboo root systems grow densely together, creating the perfect shelter for harmful elements such as rodents, insects, and other unwelcome guests. If allowed to run wild, bamboo patches can introduce pests and diseases to humans, pets, and biospheres, further increasing hardship in communities.  
  • Introducing bamboo into the landscape can be seen as a long-term commitment. Once the bamboo has a hold on habitat, it is challenging to eradicate it. Digging up bamboo is a lengthy, tedious process and does not guarantee the destruction of the invader.

Extreme measures include the spraying of harmful herbicides containing imazapyr or comparable chemical treatments, which further impact the ecosystem’s health. Utilizing distilled white vinegar to kill new growth has shown a modicum of success. 

Can Bamboo Make You Sick?

Of all the known bamboo species grown globally, only about a hundred variants are suitable for safe human consumption. When consuming bamboo in its natural, raw state, it is inherently toxic. Due to the fact this plant is capable of producing cyanide, this classifies bamboo as one of the most poisonous plant materials known to man.

Pandas eat more than twenty-six to eighty-four pounds of bamboo every day. Mostly possible as a result of evolutionary adaptation. Historically faced with limited food resources, pandas reputedly developed a surplus of cyanide ingesting microbes in their digestive systems, which effectively neutralize toxins to make bamboo shoots, stems, and leaves safe to eat.

Unfortunately, humans lack the gut chemistry needed to counteract cyanide compounds’ deadly production when ingesting raw bamboo. For bamboo shoots to be edible, it is essential to remove the fibrous exterior. Boil bamboo to render it safe to consume. The projections are, however, the only part of the bamboo grass that is palatable to humans.

Edible varieties of bamboo include Phyllostachys decora, Phyllostachys Dulcis and Phyllostachys edulis, among others.   

So, What’s So Bad About Bamboo?

Bamboo has a multitude of practical uses—however, its destructive effect on biodiversity and the environment.

Therefore, gardeners wishing to incorporate it into landscaping should be knowledgeable and forewarned of the many pitfalls and demands of this perennial evergreen grass. Research the type of plant that will best suit your needs and cultivate accordingly. Be prepared to commit to a long-lasting association that can take up a lot of your time and effort.

Perform regular, thorough maintenance and stay in control. Never forget the saying: the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps. Happy gardening. 

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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