Roots of Bamboo

Bamboo Fundamentals 101, Things You Should Know


The Basics-

Bamboo or botanically speaking, the Bambuseae tribe is classified as a true grass and breaks down into 9 Sub-tribes of 1,450 known species. The number of sub-species and definable cultivars continues to expand.


Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet. It can literally telescope out of the ground to full height in a matter of a few weeks. Thereafter, leaves begin to form from the top down. The culms harden over the following year and most are considered ready to harvest at the end of the 3rd year. Some species can reach heights exceeding 100 feet with diameters of 8 inches or more.


Because of it’s very fast growth rate, it’s a good choice for revitalizing the planet’s atmosphere. The conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen is most efficient.


Origin and Folklore-

Bamboo has been an integral part of Chinese, East Indian, Asian and Japanese cultures for several millennia.


Bamboo is universally known as the symbol of good fortune.


In India, it’s a symbol of friendship. Ancient Chinese poets wrote profusely in praise of bamboo equating it’s properties to noble human aspirations. Many Asian and Pacific creation myths feature bamboo in one form or another… Often as a springboard for human emergence into the world.



Though certain species can withstand some cold and freezing, the majority thrive in the temperate equatorial regions of the planet. Bamboo can range as far North as the Mid-Atlantic US States to Argentina and Chile in the South, including Northern Australia. Several species thrive in the Himalaya and the Andes mountains.


Food & Health-

Bamboo shoots, an Asian diet staple.


Bamboo shoots are so common now, they typically come in bags of frozen Asian vegetable mix. You can almost always find cans of bamboo shoots sitting on the shelf next to Water Chestnuts and bean sprouts. They are high in nutrients and good for you. Fresh ones resemble the giant tips of Asparagus spears. Several exotic dishes are made from chopped or ground or fermented bamboo shoots as well.


Bamboo chopsticks, cooking utensils and cutting boards are a common sight at Walmart now. Bamboo also makes an effective filter for purifying drinking water. Though not as popular in the West as in the East, bamboo charcoal is very common and readily available as whole pieces or briquets.

Traditional remedies are prepared from bamboo in both Chinese and East Indian medicine. ‘Bamboo Manna’ is a tonic used for certain respiratory diseases.


Bamboo greens are also the exclusive diet of Pandas. Without it, they would perish. Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Bamboo Lemurs and Elephants also dine on bamboo.


Construction Materials-

We have all seen images of huts and houses made of bamboo, but bamboo has evolved into a much more advanced construction material. Engineered boards were first made available as composite flooring in the early 1990’s… very durable and beautiful. Today, engineered components made of bamboo, are becoming available in other forms like structural ‘I’ beams or flat panels. It’s used as a stiffener in some surfboards. It is also used as a substitute for steel rebar in precast concrete panels.


Bamboo Construction, HongKongIn Hong Kong, high-rise construction is almost always accompanied by bamboo scaffolding.


Furniture made from bamboo is all too common.


When you consider that bamboo grows at 4 times the rate of hardwoods, it makes a viable alternative to structural components made of wood. The demand for bamboo materials will only increase.


Bamboo Paper-

The Chinese have been making paper from bamboo from the beginning of recorded history. In Asia, bamboo accounts for about 60% of all pulp based products. Commercial production has grown to include China, Myanmar, Thailand and India. A handmade version is popular with artists as well.


bamboo bicycleRecreational Applications-

Bamboo Flute


Flutes, Art brushes, Bicycles, Fly-Fishing Rods and Marshal Arts training gear, just to name a few.


Bamboo flutes can be as simple as a child’s toy or as sophisticated as Japanese Fue. An elegant device taking years to make and very expensive. The Chinese have been using bamboo brushes to write and paint with since the beginning of time and are still very popular today. The first bamboo frame bicycle dates to 1894. Several companies continue to make bikes from bamboo. A quality bamboo fly rod is considered ‘high art’ by dedicated sport fisherman and can command high prices. Collectors have been known to shell out $15,000 US for mint condition antiques. Several Marshal Arts disciplines make use of bamboo fighting sticks. There is a scene in the original ‘Matrix’ movie where Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne go at it using Kendo ‘Shinai’ bamboo swords. Needless to say, there are many more recreational applications of bamboo.


Buyer Beware-

A lot of attention has been focused on clothing made from bamboo. This is disingenuous as the fibers of bamboo are too short (3 millimeter) to be spun into thread. What is being peddled as bamboo cloth is actually Rayon, a semi-synthetic made from any cellulose fiber. A manufacturing technique that’s been around since the early 1890’s when it was referred to as ‘artificial silk’. The US and Canada now require sellers of bamboo apparel to declare it as Rayon first, with the added reference of ‘from bamboo’.



Bottom line- Bamboo as an industry is estimated to reach $25 Billion (USD) in 2012.


I’ve only glossed over the impact bamboo has on our daily lives. There is enough information on the subject to fill a hard drive… you get the idea.



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