This study presents spatiotemporally-resolved measurements of surface shear-stress tau (s) in live plant canopies and rigid wooden cube arrays to identify the sheltering capability against sediment erosion of these different roughness elements. Live plants have highly irregular structures that can be extremely flexible and porous resulting in considerable changes to the drag and flow regimes relative to rigid imitations mainly used in other wind-tunnel studies. Mean velocity and kinematic Reynolds stress profiles show that well-developed natural boundary layers were generated above the 8 m long wind-tunnel test section covered with the roughness elements at four different roughness densities (lambda = 0, 0.017, 0.08, 0.18). Speed-up around the cubes caused higher peak surface shear stress than in experiments with plants at all roughness densities, demonstrating the more effective sheltering ability of the plants. The sheltered areas in the lee of the plants are significantly narrower with higher surface shear stress than those found in the lee of the cubes, and are dependent on the wind speed due to the plants ability to streamline with the flow. This streamlining behaviour results in a decreasing sheltering effect at increasing wind speeds and in lower net turbulence production than in experiments with cubes. Turbulence intensity distributions suggest a suppression of horseshoe vortices in the plant case. Comparison of the surface shear-stress measurements with sediment erosion patterns shows that the fraction of time a threshold skin friction velocity is exceeded can be used to assess erosion of, and deposition on, that surface.