This question has been circulating, and festering over the last few years.

If you expect this article to “explore” the question and come to a caveated, mealy-mouthed conclusion about how “any plant can be a problem” and how “you should consult a specialist for any plant-related problem”, then let’s put that to bed right away.

No. Bamboo is *not* the new Japanese knotweed.

As invasive species specialists, it’s hugely important to distinguish between bamboo – which, in the vast majority of cases, is a gardening issue – and Japanese knotweed which has a very unique set of attributes and problems. This is not to deflect from the severity of certain cases where bamboo has caused real and costly damage – nor is it to ignore other invasive species like giant hogweed, with its health and safety implications.

However, Japanese knotweed is the one and only Japanese knotweed.

Other plants do more damage (including the non-native sycamore and the invasive tree of heaven, for example). Other plants have attributes like spreading by seed that make sites more difficult to protect from re-infestation over the long term, however, Japanese knotweed is the superbug of the plant world, and an infestation should rarely be left unaddressed.

Knotweed fuels biodiversity loss, and remediation generally requires invasive mechanical works or loss of amenity or land use over a period of several years; problems seen with few other species other than the most damaging invaders such as Rhododendron ponticum.

While it’s tempting to jump on the media bandwagon and fuel the fire caused by media reporting that “bamboo is the new knotweed”, in the long term, trust of our industry is based on how our statements match up to reality. If clients perceive that the industry is overdoing the hype about bamboo, this risks damaging our credibility on other issues – credibility which, once lost, is not likely to be regained.

It’s more important for INNSA members to be seen as the solution to real problems than it is to try to drum up business by painting all sorts of plants as intractable issues and sensationalising their impact.

If a client approaches you with a gardening problem, why not just tell them to speak to a gardener? This avoids the dance of sending back a premium quote for specialist work from a nationwide contractor, when your client could speak to a local arborist or landscaper from and get the works done just as effectively for half the price (and likely with a lower carbon footprint).

While media coverage brings in enquiries in the short term, what keeps us in business in the long term is the effectiveness, the unique value and the practical viability of our service. Most of this comes down to the difference between specialists and gardeners. If we start dressing up gardening issues as requiring specialist intervention, we risk a situation where disillusioned clients turn to inexpert gardeners for the more serious and complicated business of invasive species removal – an approach which we all understand results in poor outcomes.

Invasive species specialists should promote ourselves as a cost-effective and reliable way to deal with invasive species problems. As an association, INNSA should encourage moves away from excessive government interventions, legal action and other such over-reactions and encourage homeowners, landowners and contractors to target resources at problems that genuinely need a solution.

There is no inconsistency in this approach – just as it’s reasonable to speak out against the over-medicalisation of certain conditions or the overuse of antibiotics, while still recognising that superbugs require medical intervention, we should be honest that our services are a tool which is only needed in a very specific set of circumstances.

Our effectiveness lies in honestly diagnosing problems and implementing the most minimal solution that will still provide an effective solution.

Of course, there will be cases where the services of a specialist are the most appropriate for a severe bamboo infestation – but it needs to be emphasised that these cases are very much the exception, rather than the rule – whereas with Japanese knotweed and other genuinely problematic invasive species, the use of a specialist should be the norm.