Abstract Melocanna baccifera (Poaceae) is the most abundant and economically important non-timber product in state of Mizoram, India. The communities of the region use this potential resource in many ways, charcoal production is one of them. Bamboo charcoal has application in food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Activated charcoal was prepared from M. baccifera charcoal by chemical pretreatment in order to make better use of this abundant biomass material. Batch experiments were conducted under varying range of pH (2.0–6.0), contact time (15–360 min) and metal ion concentrations (50–90 mg L −1). The optimum conditions for lead biosorption are almost same for M. baccifera raw charcoal (MBRC) and M. baccifera activated charcoal (MBAC)-pH 5.0, contact time 120 min, adsorption capacity q max 10.66 mg g −1 and 53.76 mg g −1, respectively. However, the biomass of MBAC was found to be more suitable than MBRC for the development of an efficient adsorbent for the removal of lead(II) from aqueous solutions. FTIR analysis revealed that –OH, C H bending, C O stretching vibration and carbonyl functional groups were mainly responsible for Pb(II) biosorption. Thus, this study demonstrated that both the charcoal biomass could be used as adsorbents for the treatment of Pb(II) from aqueous solution.