We first came across Oxytenanthera abyssinica, or African lowland bamboo, in the highlands of Mozambique. The species was occurring naturally and widespread within a large commercial tea plantation. It was found along riverine courses interspersed with introduced Bambusa vulgaris, and in pockets of conservation areas. As harvested culms we found it drying along roadsides, and in bundles for sale within the markets of Nampula town and surrounding villages.
Oxytenanthera abyssinica caught our attention for a few reasons. The species has a different growth pattern to most of the giant clumping (sympodial) bamboo species. The culms are much smaller, in both diameter and in height. Although this wouldn't automatically convey itself as an advantage, it perked our interest:
1. Although the culms are smaller, they are almost always solid along the lowest internodes. This results in a higher quantity of usable biomass for a culm of the same diameter of other species.
2. Oxytenanthera abyssinica clumps have a very high shooting capacity for a tropical clumping bamboo. Most tropical clumping bamboos produce in the range of 6-8 shoots per year. However this particular species typical produces 10-12 shoots per year, meaning that although the culms are of smaller diameter and shorter in height, the overall productivity and therefore potential commercial yields of the plant remains high.
3. Smaller, lighter culms have advantages from a harvesting perspective. They are easier to remove and can be carried by a single individual, without needing to undergo significant additional cutting or pre-processing in the field.
4. These species has a wide climate range and has been found to be highly drought tolerant and can survive long dry periods. It has been found to occur as widespread as Northern Ghana, where the dry season lasts upwards of six months. With climate change occurring, any species that exhibits such tolerance, as well as the ability to adapt to new environments, presents advantages from a commercial production standpoint.
Once EcoPlanet Bamboo's interest in the species had been triggered, we at EPB Laboratories managed to get hold of a number of samples from different locations and carry out a number of tests and research projects on the species. During these we discovered that Oxytenanthera abyssinica has a high comparative calorific value, and low ash and volatiles content, making it into a superior species for the production of precursor bamboo charcoal and other bamboo carbonized products.
Learn more about Oxytenanthera abyssinica here or read more about its use on EcoPlanet Bamboo South Africa's Kowie Bamboo Farm.