Many studies attribute the effects of vegetation in reducing soil erosion rates to the effects of the above-ground biomass. The effects of roots on topsoil resistance against concentrated flow erosion are much less studied. However, in a Mediterranean context, where the above-ground biomass can temporarily disappear because of fire, drought or overgrazing, and when concentrated flow erosion occurs, roots can play an important role in controlling soil erosion rates. Unfortunately, information on Mediterranean plant characteristics, especially root characteristics, growing on semi-natural lands, and knowledge of their suitability for gully erosion control is often lacking. A methodological framework to evaluate plant traits for this purpose is absent as well. This paper presents a methodology to assess the suitability of plants for rill and gully erosion control and its application to 25 plant species, representative for a semi-arid Mediterranean landscape in southeast Spain. In this analysis determination of suitable plants for controlling concentrated flow erosion is based on a multi-criteria analysis. First, four main criteria were determined, i.e. (1) the potential of plants to prevent incision by concentrated flow erosion, (2) the potential of plants to improve slope stability, (3) the resistance of plants to bending by water flow and (4) the ability of plants to trap sediments and organic debris. Then, an indicator or a combination of two indicators was used to assess the scores for the four criteria. In total, five indicators were selected, i.e. additional root cohesion, plant stiffness, stem density, the erosion-reducing potential during concentrated flow and the sediment and organic debris obstruction potential. Both above- and below-ground plant traits were taken into account and measured to assess the scores for the five indicators, i.e. stem density, sediment and organic debris obstruction potential, modulus of elasticity of the stems, moment of inertia of the stems, root density, root diameter distribution, root area ratio and root tensile strength. The scores for the indicators were represented on amoeba diagrams, indicating the beneficial and the weak plant traits, regarding to erosion control. The grasses Stipa tenacissima L. and Lygeum spartum L. and the shrub Salsola genistoides Juss. Ex Poir. amongst others, were selected as very suitable plant species for rill and gully erosion control. Stipa tenacissima can be used to re-vegetate abandoned terraces as this species is adapted to drought and offers a good protection to concentrated flow erosion and shallow mass movements. Lygeum spartum can be used to vegetate concentrated flow zones or to obstruct sediment inflow to channels at gully outlets. Stipa tenacissima and Salsola genistoides can be used to stabilize steep south-facing slopes. The methodology developed in this study can be applied to other plant species in areas suffering from rill and gully erosion. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley Sons, Ltd.