Versatile Bamboo: Food, Shade, Construction and Carbon Sequestration

Bambusa bambos, giant thorny bamboo, Mai Chau.

Demand for bamboo shoots in Brisbane always seems to outstrip supply. I wouldn’t like to depend on finding fresh bamboo shoots for sale – availability is erratic and quality is variable – so I grow my own.

Thyrsostachys siamensis, Monastery bamboo

I planted three species in 2003 and kept the one that best suits me and my garden: Thyrsostachys siamensis aka Monastery bamboo.

I harvested my second picking of the year this morning. Bamboo shoots go well with stuffed lá lốt (Piper sarmentosum) – a light, satisfying lunch for high summer. Fresh, cooked bamboo shoots stored in salt water in a sealed container in the fridge last for many weeks – my one plant provides enough shoots for up to six months.

Every spring, the leaves on bamboos growing around Brisbane turn brown in the hot, dry, windy weather. In persistent drought, they shed their leaves and that’s a gardener’s cue to make leafmould. I have a separate bin just for making leafmould. Leafmould is perfect for rainforest plants, ferns, and special perennials – like my giant bat plant and cycads.

Preparing bamboo shoots for boiling.

When it pours and there’s no need to water the vegetables, I can give my bamboo surplus recycled water. I do the same if my rainwater tank overflows and my stormwater infiltration well is full. Two weeks after a soaking summer storm and up pops a crop of shoots.




Formal bamboo screen, Ha Noi.

I planted bamboo because it is important in sustainable living: food, shade, privacy, security and for supporting vines. Pheasant coucals and possums gravitate towards the shelter of my bamboo which, now it is seventeen years old, has grown to become a landscape statement without outgrowing the allocated space in its position between the fence and a raised vegetable bed. Judicious harvesting keeps it that way.

Bamboo grows efficiently in our increasingly carbon-polluted atmosphere if there is adequate nitrogen in the soil. Bamboo soaks up and captures atmospheric CO2 as it grows, returning carbon to the land as soil-improving leaf litter, mulch, stems and roots. Bamboo nurtures microscopic life vital for maintaining soil as a major carbon sink in a warming world.

All in all, clumping bamboo is as handy and versatile in a garden or community orchard as it is for climate repair.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Director, Seed Savers’ Network Inc.
1st February 2020

* Bamboo World Nursery in NSW has a brilliant collection.


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