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What is bamboo forestry?

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

pile of harvested bamboo

Bamboos have often been overlooked in the forestry world due to the unique properties that set them apart from deciduous and coniferous trees. Forestry is defined as the study of planting and cultivating large trees. Bamboos fall into somewhat of a grey area as they are classified as members of the grass family. Bamboos are classified according to their type, species, and variety– and there are 1600+ known types of bamboo worldwide. Scientists differentiate bamboo based on the type of flower it produces. Bamboos have been used for a variety of applications for centuries, with records of bamboo cultivation dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The study of bamboo forestry, however, has become a more common interest due to bamboo’s renewability and sustainability.

Read on as bamboo bioproducts explains what bamboo forestry is and how cultivating this grass can reduce pressure on traditional forest practices.

The potential impact of bamboo forestry

Cultivating bamboos have gained traction recently due to their potential as a substitute for energy-intensive products. Since bamboos grow faster than any other plant in the world, the turnover time for biomass production is much lower than that of traditionally used trees for tissue and hygiene products. It also means bamboos are considered to be effective carbon dioxide absorbers. Bamboos can be selectively harvested and provide woody biomass each year once mature, whereas traditionally cultivated trees take 10-20 years before they’re mature enough to be harvested.

figure showing carbon capture/ha/yr of bamboo, eucalyptus, and northern softwoods
Bamboos sequester more carbon dioxide than Eucalyptus and Northern Softwood combined.

Bamboo species, however, reach maturity at around 3 years. Since they are a colony plant, they use energy from the existing rhizome structure to produce more plants in the following year, subsequently increasing the size and biomass of the colony. This means that new shoots will emerge after harvest (just like other grasses) and the growth cycle continues with a 60-day growth period of new culms. As a result, the environmental impact of this harvesting and growth cycle is much less invasive than other types of forestry. Ultimately, the time it takes to produce woody biomass from bamboos is significantly less than hard and softwood forests.

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How can bamboo cultivation reduce pressure on forests?

Bamboo biomass can be used in tissue and hygiene products without sacrificing softness or strength. Bamboo pulp fibres have similar strength levels and lengths as softwoods such as pine, spruce and fir, which are the most common species of tree used to produce paper-based products. As a result, bamboo pulp is considered to be just as efficient as wood pulp, with added environmental benefits such as its ability to bioremediate, as well as detoxify degraded soil and farmland. Bamboos also provide a significant amount of biomass without a large deal of land take in comparison to softwoods and eucalyptus.

figure showing land take comparison between northern softwood, eucalyptus, and bamboo
Bamboos produce more "wood" per acre than Eucalyptus and Northern Softwood. Therefore, Bamboo's land take is significantly less.

Reducing pressure on forests, however, will not be achieved solely through production of more bamboo. Rather, it will require current and emerging stakeholders in the bamboo pulp industry to treat their product as a green solution, prioritising certain farming and manufacturing methods in light of this. Bamboo bioproducts, for example, will contribute to reducing pressure on forests through supplying sustainable bamboo pulp to global industries in tissue and hygiene. In fact, bamboo bioproducts is manufacturing the first ever bleached bamboo sustainable kraft, or BBSK. BBSK will be developed from renewably-sourced bamboo and processed using the best available technologies. Through the development of the first bamboo pulp mill in the Western Hemisphere, bamboo bioproducts is setting a precedent for future players in this industry - and creating an alternative green product for stakeholders and their global consumers.

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