Bamboo does not get attacked by pests. A bamboo myth that gets thrown around casually and extremely carelessly in the attempt to promote bamboo - incorrectly - as a silver bullet or magic plant. And yet it only takes a quick google search to come across INBAR's wonderfully illustrated publication "Insect Pests of Bamboos in Asia - An Illustrated Manual", or a suite of other publications documenting in detail the many many pests that like to feed on bamboo.
Covering vast latitudes with rich bamboo reserves, China has a great variety of bamboo pest insects. Those formally described and with published scientific names include more than 400 species belonging to 230 genera, 50 families, and 9 orders.
Hang on. 400 pests? And these documents generally focus only on insect pests rather than the many herbivores that also have the potential to cause significant damage. So why does the internet tell us that if we want to become bamboo farmers or own a bamboo plantation we don't need to worry because bamboo grows so easily and doesn't have any pests? We only need to take a step back and question the common sense behind the same misinformation that informs us of bamboo's miracle status of being so highly unattractive to eat that it has no pests, promptly continuing on to promote markets for bamboo shoots for human consumption given just how delicious they are.
We will deal with invertebrate pest attacks in a subsequent posting, but for now let's focus solely on animal pests that pose a significant threat in the early years of the development of bamboo, whether it happens to be bamboo seedlings in a nursery, a few bamboo plants being grown at the rural household level, or a larger bamboo farm or bamboo plantation initiative.
EcoPlanet Bamboo's experience is based predominantly in tropical countries where herbivores (both domesticated and wild) are rampant and have the potential to cause extreme damage to a bamboo nursery or a young bamboo farm - growing bamboo in the United States or other temperate countries where biodiversity levels may be lower, may have advantages from a lowered threat of pests. In the rainforests of Nicaragua, in the early years of growth our Guadua bamboo plants are attacked and eaten by a wide variety of rodents, with the most damaging being the same large cane rat that causes havoc to sugar cane plantations across the continent - makes sense that bamboo would face the same pests given its ecological status as a grass. Domesticated animals, whose attacks are described in more detail below, cause the next significant threat - a handful of cattle can destroy a 10 acre bamboo plot within minutes of entering.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the range of herbivores ready to fill their bellies with bamboo is even longer; smaller varieties of rodent remain some of the worst bamboo pests as these animals not only attack the above ground portion of each bamboo plant, but travel under the surface of the soil through below ground tunnels, causing havoc to the underground rhizomes - an attack that will result in the death of the bamboo plant. Rarer animals such as porcupines represent silent in the night bamboo killers - a greater threat as, with their sharp teeth and larger jaws their attacks aren't limited to smaller shoots, and an individual animal can easily devour a fully mature diameter bamboo shoot of the largest species. Rabbits, spring hares, and duikers - the list continues.
Each bamboo pest causes its own unique type of damage to the young bamboo seedling or bamboo plant. A few examples of the damage caused by different bamboo pests are provided below. Over the past decade EcoPlanet Bamboo has utilized motion triggered bush cameras, night cameras and other technology to develop a detailed understanding of the wide variety of animals that pose a threat to different species of bamboo. Multi year trials and extensive R&D were necessary to develop unique and environmentally friendly methods to prevent such pest damage through integrated and Forest Stewardship Council certifiable pest management systems.
In most rural locations, large herbivores represent the most significant pest to a bamboo farm. Herbivores such as antelopes attack bamboo in the same manner as any domesticated animal such as cattle, goats and pigs. These larger herbivores, who are mostly grass feeders, will eat an entire bamboo clump within minutes, cutting cleanly through each bamboo culm 1-2 feet above the ground. Although these bamboo pests and attacks do not necessarily kill the plant, they cause extreme damage which results in severe stunting of the bamboo plant and the time taken for the plant to recover can be extensive.
Bamboo damage by grass eating herbivores, such as antelope, cattle or goats - pests that occur in the majority of locations suitable for the commercial production of bamboo either in bamboo farms or plantations.
Bamboo pests such as rabbits and hares prefer younger bamboo plants, and eat through new culms at the base of each culm, killing the plant. Rats and rodents have the same effect.
Bamboo pests such as porcupines have the potential to cause immense damage to a bamboo plantation, eating entire large diameter shoots leaving only the outer casing.
The reality is that bamboo's status of being a grass, means that young bamboo plants, generally those within the first five years of the bamboo plant's development, make it an ideal meal for a wide variety of grass eating pests. As the bamboo plant matures and the emerging shoots and associated culms become larger, the herbivore risk lessens, however the risk of the 400+ insect pests who feed on the wood-like biomass of the culms of the mature bamboo plant, increases.
These risks are of course, manageable, and with the right mix of forestry, agricultural and sustainability expertise, are manageable without the use of chemicals or harmful pesticides. EcoPlanet Bamboo utilizes a full system of integrated pest management to minimize and control the pests specific to each location.
So we are afraid that we truly have no legitimate explanation for how this bamboo myth came about... other than deliberate misinformation to over-exaggerate the mythical and magical quality that bamboo forests have long depended upon.
However if bamboo's potential to become a plant that can be successfully - and in an environmentally and socially positive manner - commercialized outside of China, farmers, smallholders, institutions and policy makers should to be made aware of the reality so that suitable mechanisms can be put in place to reduce the associated risks.