Guadua is a Neotropics genus of thorny clumping bamboo, ranging from moderate to very large species. Physically, Guadua angustifolia is noted for being the largest Neotropics bamboo. The genus is similar to Bambusa and is sometimes included in Bambusa.
Guadua angustifolia Kunth, endemic to Latin America, is slowly becoming well-known once again as a greatly desirable building material. Highly appreciated by the Liberator Simon Bolivar for its watershed protection and praised by Alexander von Humboldt for its wide variety of uses, it is being utilized in construction today by both the rich and the poor of South America.
Sadly, most of the huge tropical rain forests and their biodiversity has vanished, and millions of hectares have been transformed into pastures and cropland. It is only now, due to technical studies and research, that bamboo's superior mechanical properties have increased the importance of this "vegetable steel." While bamboo culms used for building can be harvested in natural forests, over- exploitation leads rapidly to the depletion of natural resources. For large-scale use of Guadua angustifolia, the management of sustainable bamboo forests and groves, as well as the establishment of new nurseries and plantations, is a priority.
Tropical bamboo can be propagated easily with cuttings or by covering complete culms with soil. The next year, new plants will sprout. Or, Guadua can be propagated more rapidly by the so-called chusquin method. Under this method, culms are cut at ground level when harvesting causing many small delicate shoots and new plants to grow around the original plant. This is a suitable method for large-scale forests or for farm cooperatives. Since bamboo is a grass, harvesting it down to the soil induces more new shoots to emerge, just like turf grass. This is a phenomenon not known in tropical hardwood forests.
Even more rapid methods have been recently developed through the use of tissue culture. Bamboo propagated in a laboratory in the space of one square meter will be sufficient to establish one hectare of new forest. These plants can also be readily transported in a one-half-cubic-meter box. Harvesting can begin six years after planting, which is another reason why bamboo deserves to be one of the leaders in tropical biomass production. For architectural purposes, Guadua is the favorite from among all the world's bamboo species. It's diameter is consistent for the first 15 meters and then at the top it becomes elegantly tapered. These features have attracted the attention of civil engineers, architects, academics, designers, and artists.
Environmentally, Guadua is more effective at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than most other tropical forest; ongoing studies in Colombia have now been coordinated by the Environmental Bamboo Foundation and the results are stunning. On the basis of such studies, Japan and the Netherlands have both undertaken massive forestation projects as a way of earning so-called "carbon credits" to offset industrial pollution.
The benefits and advantages of bamboo are multitudinous. Recent studies conducted by the European Union confirm that bamboo's water requirements are small and that its root system is an excellent watershed protector. Depending on humidity, Guadua contains 15% more BTUs than other fuelwoods and could therefore serve as an alternative fuel for energy. German Fire Authorities tested Guadua and, guided by the European Building Code, have recently approved bamboo as a building material to be used for the Guadua Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover. A preservation technique, involving the use of smoke, but without the use of toxins, will prevent bamboo's deterioration for as long as a normal lifetime or longer. Bamboo construction is also earthquake-resistant. Recent earthquakes in Colombia's coffee zone proved this when many houses built in the 1930s survived, while modern houses collapsed. Costa Rica reported similar experiences in earlier earthquakes there.