By: Casey Arakaki
Worldwide there are well over 1,000 different species, with several hundred available in the United States. They range from groundcover bamboo that will reach several inches at maturity to giant bamboo that can reach over 100 inches in the tropics and from quick-spreading species to clumping types of bamboo that expand outward only a few inches a year. Some types of bamboo thrive in hot, humid rainforests while others are cold hardy, surviving in temperatures as low as –20 degrees. Bamboo comes in many colors, sizes, and textures. Bamboo is a group of perennial evergreens in the true grass family and has many different species. It is native to most parts of the world, including the U.S.A. Canebrake, as it is called in the Southeast, is the only bamboo that is native to the continental U.S. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant. Some varieties can send new shoots up out of the ground at a rate of over 1 foot per day.
History and Origin
What was once a symbol of the Orient, bamboo now has a reputation as the mediator between the strength of hardwood and the sustainability of grass. This woody grass currently grows throughout the world, but the origin of bamboo is believed to be ancient China. Bamboo is finally being utilized in all walks of life. From dishware to clothing, you can find a bamboo alternative in almost every industry. Bamboo was first found and used in China more than 5000 years ago, which is why the woody plant conjures up images of pandas eating shoots and leaves. Even though its many uses are only just becoming widely known, the bamboo plant as an alternative material began long before “going green” became a trend. The history of bamboo is most significant for many Asian countries and it is said to be good luck in Asian cultures.
Taxonomic and Morphological Characteristics/Features
More than 70 genera are divided into about 1,450 species. Bamboo species are found in diverse climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions. They occur across East Asia, from 50°N latitude in Sakhalin through to Northern Australia, and west to India and the Himalayas. They also occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Americas from the Mid-Atlantic United States south to Argentina and Chile, reaching their southernmost point anywhere, at 47°S latitude. Continental Europe is not known to have any native species of bamboo. There have recently been some attempts to grow bamboo on a commercial basis in the Great Lakes region of eastern-central Africa, especially in Rwanda. Companies in the United States are growing, harvesting and distributing species such as Henon and Moso.
Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth with reported growth rates of 100 cm (39 in) in 24 hours. However, the growth rate is dependent on local soil and climatic conditions as well as species, and a more typical growth rate for many commonly cultivated bamboos in temperate climates is in the range of 3–10 cm (1-4 inches) per day during the growing period. Most of the growing in regions of warmer climates is during the late Cretaceous period. Some of the largest timber bamboo can grow over 30 meters (98 ft) tall, and be as large as 15–20 cm (6-8 inches) in diameter. However, the size range for mature bamboo is species dependent, with the smallest bamboos reaching only several inches high at maturity. A typical height range that would cover many of the common bamboos grown in the United States is 15–40 feet, depending on its species.
Soft bamboo shoots, stems, and leaves are the major food source of the giant panda of China, the red panda of Nepal, and the bamboo lemurs of Madagascar. Mountain gorillas of Africa also feed on bamboo, and have been documented consuming bamboo sap, which was fermented and alcoholic; chimps and elephants of the region also eat the stalks. Sexual reproduction: Bamboos are...