Bamboo is a group of woody perennial evergreen plants in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Some of its members are giant bamboo, forming by far the largest members of the grass family. Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world. Their growth rate (up to 3-4 feet/day (1.5-2.0 inches/hr)) is due to a unique rhizome-dependent system, but is highly dependent on local soil and climate conditions.

They are of economic and high cultural significance in East Asia and South East Asia where they are used extensively in gardens, as a building material, and as a food source. In Filipino, they are known as kawayan, Chamorro as piao, in Chinese as zhu in Japanese as , in Korean as dae (대) or daenamu (대나무), in Myanmar as wa, in Vietnamese as Tre /t?e/, in Hindi as baans (बाँस) or vainoo (वेणु), in Persian as nei (??) and in Indonesian as bambu.

There are 91 genera and about 1,000 species of bamboo. They 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 Himalaya. They also occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Americas from the southeast of the United States south to Argentina and Chile, there reaching their furthest south anywhere, at 47°S latitude. Major areas with no native bamboos include Europe, north Africa, western Asia, Canada, most of Australia, and Antarctica.


Mass flowering

Bamboo can grow six or more inches a day though there are exceptions (below). Although some bamboos flower every year, most species flower infrequently. In fact, many bamboos only flower at intervals as long as 60 or 120 years. These taxa exhibit mass flowering (or gregarious flowering), with all plants in the population flowering simultaneously. The longest mass flowering interval known is 130 years, and is found for all the species Phyllostachys bambusoides (Sieb. & Zucc.). In this species all plants of the same stock flower at the same time, regardless of differences in geographic locations or climatic conditions and the bamboo then dies. The lack of environmental impact on the time of flowering indicates the presence of some sort of “alarm clock” in each cell of the plant which signals the diversion of all energy to flower production and the cessation of vegetative growth. This mechanism, as well as the evolutionary cause behind it, is still largely a mystery.

One theory attempting to explain the evolution of this semelparous mass flowering is the predator satiation hypothesis. This theory argues that by fruiting at the same time a population increases the survival rate of their seeds by flooding the area with fruit so that even if predators eat their fill, there will still be seeds left over. The death of the adult clone, this hypothesis argues, is due to resource exhaustion, as it would be more effective for parent plants to devote all resources to creating a large seed crop than to hold back energy for their own regeneration.

A second theory, the fire cycle hypothesis, argues that the death of the adult plants has evolved as a mechanism to create disturbance in the habitat, thus providing the seedlings with a gap to grow in. This hypothesis argues that the dead culms create a large fuel load, and also a large target for lightning strikes, increasing the likelihood of wildfire. Because bamboos are very aggressive as early successional plants, the seedlings would be able to outstrip other plants and take over the space left by their parents. However, both of these theories contain flaws, and the cause of this mass flowering and fruiting remains uncertain.

The mass fruiting also has direct economic consequences, however. The huge increase in available fruit in the forests often causes a boom in rodent populations, leading to increases in disease and famine in nearby human populations. For example, there are devastating consequences when the Melocanna bambusoides population flowers and fruits once every 30-35 years around the Bay of Bengal. The death of the bamboo plants following their fruiting means the local people lose their building material, and the large increase in bamboo fruit leads to a rapid increase in rodent populations. As the number of rodents increase, they consume all available food, including grain fields and stored food, sometimes leading to famine. These rats can also carry dangerous diseases such as typhus, typhoid, and bubonic plague, which can reach epidemic proportions as the rodents increase in number.

Bamboo is the fastest-growing plant on Earth. It has been clocked surging skyward as fast as 121 cm (47.6 inches) in a 24-hour period. It can also reach maximal growth rate exceeding one meter (40 inches) per hour for short periods of time.

Many prehistoric bamboos stemming from Poaceae and Bambusoideae have existed since prehistoric eras. These species of bamboo exceeded heights of 250 feet. Primarily growing in regions of warmer climates, vast fields existed in what is now Asia. In modern times bamboo can only sustain this growth for short periods of time. During the Cretaceous period, bamboo growth could exceed 5 meters (16 feet) within 24 hours.


Commercial timber

Timber is harvested from cultivated and wild stands and some of the larger bamboos, particularly species in the genus Phyllostachys, are known as "timber bamboos".

Ornamental bamboos

Many bamboos are popular in cultivation as garden trees. There are two general patterns for the growth of bamboo: "clumping" (sympodial) and "running" (monopodial). Clumping bamboo species tend to spread slowly, as the growth pattern of the rhizomes is to simply expand the root mass gradually, similar to ornamental grasses. "Running" bamboos, on the other hand, need to be taken care of in cultivation because of their potential for aggressive behavior. They spread mainly through their roots and/or rhizomes, which can spread widely underground and send up new culms to break through the surface. Running bamboo species are highly variable in their tendency to spread; this is related to both the species and the soil and climate conditions. Some can send out runners of several meters a year, while others can stay in the same general area for long periods. If neglected, over time they can cause problems by moving into adjacent areas.

Bamboos seldom and unpredictably flower, and the frequency of flowering varies greatly from species to species. Once flowering takes place, a plant will decline and often die entirely. Seeds collected from a flowering may be used to rebuild a species, but flowering can also introduce unexpected alterations in the characteristics of the bamboo, so that new variants ("sports") are created instead. There are a number of interesting types of bamboo which did not exist several decades ago that have been introduced as a result of flowering. Seeds generally have a relatively short period of viability (3-12 months). Germination rates can often be improved by use of cold stratification, which involves refrigerating the seeds for a period of 4-8 weeks before planting. Although there are always a few species of bamboo in flower at any given time, collectors desiring to grow specific bamboo typically obtain their plants as divisions of already-growing plants, rather than waiting for seeds to be produced.

Once established as a grove, it is difficult to completely remove bamboo without digging up the entire network of underground rhizomes. If bamboo must be removed, an alternative to digging it up is to cut down the culms, and then repeatedly mow down new shoots as they arise, until the root system exhausts its energy supply and dies. If any leaves are allowed to photosynthesize, the bamboo survives and may continue spreading. Chemical methods involving herbicides are also used to control bamboo.

There are two main ways to prevent the spread of running bamboo into adjacent areas. The first method is rhizome pruning or "edging", which involves removing any rhizomes escaping the desired bamboo area. Pruning shears, shovels, and pickaxes are useful tools for this task. Under typical soil conditions the rhizomes are generally very close to the surface(usually within 0-3 inches, sometimes as deep as a foot). Rhizome pruning maintenance should be done at least once per year, but better is to check in the spring, summer, and fall. Some species may be deep running (beyond typical spade depth). These are much harder to control and deeper cuts will need to be made. Regular maintenance will indicate major growth directions and locations. Once the rhizomes are cut, they are typically removed; however, rhizomes take a number of months to mature and an immature, severed rhizome will usually cease growing if left in-ground. If any bamboo shoots come up outside of the bamboo area afterwards, their presence indicates the precise location of the missed rhizome. The fibrous roots that radiate from the rhizomes do not grow up to be more bamboo so if they stay in the ground, that's not a problem.

The second way to control growth is by surrounding the plant or grove with a physical barrier. This method is very detrimental to ornamental bamboo as the bamboo within quickly becomes rootbound--showing all the signs of any unhappy, containerized plant. Symptoms include rhizomes escaping over the top, down underneath, and bursting the barrier. The bamboo within generally deteriorates in quality as fewer and fewer culms grow each year, culms live shorter periods, new culm diameter decreases, fewer leaves grow on the culms, and leaves turn yellow as the unnaturally contained rootmass quickly depletes the soil of nutrients, and curling leaves as the condensed roots cannot collect the water they need to sustain the foliage. Concrete and specially-rolled HDPE plastic are the usual materials used. This is placed in a 60-90 cm (2-3 feet) deep ditch around the planting, and angled out at the top to direct the rhizomes to the surface. (This is _only_ possible if the barrier is installed in a straight line.) Strong rhizomes and tools can penetrate plastic barriers with relative ease, so great care must be taken. Barriers usually fail sooner or later, or the bamboo within suffers greatly. Casual observation of many failed barriers has shown bursting of 60 mil HDPE in 5-6 years, and rhizomes diving underneath in as few as 3 years post install. In small areas regular maintenance is the only perfect method of controlling the spreading bamboos. Bamboo in barriers is much more difficult to remove than free-spreading bamboo. Barriers and edging are unnecessary for clump-forming bamboos. Clump-forming bamboos may eventually need to have portions removed if they get too large.



The shoots (new bamboo culms that come out of the ground) of bamboo are edible. They are used in numerous Asian dishes and broths, and are available in supermarkets in various sliced forms, both fresh and canned version. A health warning is appropriate in the case of the shoots of the giant bamboo, as they contain cyanide. Despite this, the Golden Bamboo Lemur ingests many times the quantity of toxin that would kill a human.

The bamboo shoot in its fermented state (called khorisa) forms an important ingredient in the cuisine of Assam.

In Indonesia, they are sliced thinly and then boiled with santan (thick coconut milk) and spices to make a dish named gulai rebung. Other recipes using bamboo shoots are sayur lodeh (mixed vegetables in coconut milk) and lun pia (sometimes written lumpia: fried wrapped bamboo shoots with vegetables). Note that the shoots of some species contain toxins that need to be leached or boiled out before they can be eaten safely.

Pickled bamboo, used as a condiment, may also be made from the pith of the young shoots.

The sap of young stalks tapped during the rainy season may be fermented to make ulanzi (a sweet wine) or simply made into a soft drink. Zhúyèqing jiu (????) is a green-coloured Chinese liquor that has bamboo leaves as one of its ingredients.

Bamboo leaves are also used as wrappers for zongzi, a steamed dumpling typical of southern China, which usually contains glutinous rice and other ingredients.

The empty hollow in the stalks of larger bamboo is often used to cook food in many Asian cultures. Soups are boiled and rice is cooked in the hollows of fresh stalks of bamboo directly over a flame. Similarly, steamed tea is sometimes rammed into bamboo hollows to produce compressed forms of Pu-erh tea. Cooking food in bamboo is said to give the food a subtle but distinctive taste.

In Sambalpur, India, the tender shoots are grated into juliennes and fermented to prepare kardi. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word for Bamboo Shoot "karira". This fermented Bamboo Shoot is used in various culinary preparations, notably "amil", a sour vegetable soup. It is also made into pancakes using rice flour as a binding agent. The Shoots that have turned a little fiberous are fermented, dried, and grounded to sand size particles to prepare a garnish known as "Hendua". It is also cooked with tender Pumpkin leaves to make Sag "Green Leaves" a green leaves recipe.

In addition, bamboo is frequently used for cooking utensils within many cultures. In modern times, some see bamboo tools as an eco-friendly alternative to other manufactured utensils.


Bamboo is used in Chinese medicine for treating infections. It is also a low calorie source of potassium. In Ayurveda, the Indian system of traditional medicine, the silicious concretion found in the culms of the bamboo stem is called banslochan. It is known as tabashir or tawashir in Unani-Tibb the Indo-Persian system of Medicine. In English this concretion is called "bamboo manna". This concretion is said to be a tonic for the respiratory diseases. This concretion, which was earlier obtained from Melocanna bambusoides is very hard to get now and has been largely replaced by synthetic silcic acid. In most Indian literature, Bambusa arundinacea is described as the source of bamboo manna (Puri, 2003).


When treated, bamboo forms a very hard wood which is both lightweight and exceptionally durable. In tropical climates it is used in elements of house construction, construction scaffolding, as a substitute for steel reinforcing rods in concrete construction, ... Modern companies are also attempting to popularize bamboo flooring made of bamboo pieces steamed, flattened, glued together, finished, and cut. However, bamboo wood is easily infested by wood-boring insects unless treated with wood preservatives or kept very dry (see picture).


Besides its use as a construction material, it is also used for fencemaking, bridges, toilets, walking sticks, canoes, tableware, decorative artwork carving, furniture, chopsticks, food steamers, toys, bicycles, hats, and martial arts weaponry, including fire arrows, flame throwers and rockets. Also, abaci and various musical instruments such as the dizi, xiao, shakuhachi, palendag, jinghu, and angklung. The Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas, Philippines has pipes made of bamboo culms. Bamboo is the traditional material used for fly fishing rods. When bamboo is harvested for wood, care is needed to select mature stems that are several years old, as first-year stems, although full sized, are not fully developed and are not as strong as more mature stems.

Bamboo canes are normally round in cross-section, but square canes can be produced by forcing the young culms to grow through a tube of square cross-section slightly smaller than the culm's natural diameter, thereby constricting the growth to the shape of the tube. Every few days the tube is removed and replaced higher up the fast-growing culm.

The fiber of bamboo has been used to make paper in China since early times. A high quality hand-made paper is still produced in small quantities. Coarse bamboo paper is still used to make spirit money in many Chinese communities.

The wood is used for knitting needles and a rayon type fabric made of bamboo fiber can be used for yarn and fabrics. Bamboo fabric is notable for its soft feel and claims of natural antibacterial properties. Clothing made from bamboo fiber is popular for activities such as yoga. Bed sheets and towels made from bamboo have become luxury items (Woolworths, South Africa sells towels made of a cotton/bamboo mix) and are becoming more popular as an environmetally-friendly option compared to other fabrics, particularly since bamboo can be grown quickly without pesticides or fertilizers.

Sharpened bamboo is also traditionally used to tattoo in Japan, Hawai'i and elsewhere.

Bamboo is used for the stems of traditional Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese smoking pipes, and was also utilized for crafting the stems of opium pipes.

A variety of species of bamboo was one of about two dozen plants carried by Polynesian voyagers to provide all their needs settling new islands; in the Hawaiian Islands, among many uses, Ohe (bamboo) carried water, made irrigation troughs for taro terraces, was used as a traditional knife for cutting the umbilical cord of a newborn, as a stamp for dyeing bark tapa cloth, and for four hula instruments — nose flute, rattle, stamping pipes and Jew's harp.

Some skateboard and snowboard deck manufacturers as well as surfboard builders are beginning to use bamboo construction. It is both lighter and stronger than traditional materials and its cultivation is environmentally friendly. At least one snow ski manufacturing company, Liberty Skis, now uses bamboo construction for these reasons.

Bamboo has been used in the construction of fishing rods since the mid 1800s. However, following the invention of fiberglass and graphite, bamboo use in fishing rods has declined dramatically. There is something of a resurgence of the use of bamboo, particularly for bamboo fly rods as demonstrated by some companies because of their aesthetics and impact on the environment.

Bamboo is also used to make enclosures in fish farming, where cages can be made from a wooden frame and bamboo lattices.

A single shoot of Bamboo can also be made into a didgeridoo, a wind instrument that is indigenous to Australia.

Bamboo has gained increasing popularity in the culinary world as a material for cutting boards, as they are hard enough to withstand years of knife abuse, yet more forgiving to the knife blade, causing less damage to the edged utensils over time.

In Indonesia, bamboo has been used for making various kinds of musical instruments. The most popular ones are the kolintang and the angklung.

A technique of making bamboo fibre from bamboo pulp has taken advance in East Asian countries,the industry will benefit many properties of this kind of clothing.

Most recently, Smock, a letterpress print shop in Syracuse, New York has created a completely sustainable bamboo paper. Free of pesticides or fertilizer and is harvested from areas in Thailand where no traditional or civil rights are violated.

Bamboo in human culture

Bamboo's long life makes it a Chinese symbol of longevity, while in India it is a symbol of friendship. The rarity of its blossoming has led to the flowers' being regarded as a sign of impending famine. This may be due to rats feeding upon the profusion of flowers, then multiplying and destroying a large part of the local food supply. The most recent flowering began in May 2006 (see Mautam). Bamboo is said to bloom in this manner only about every 50 years (see 28–60 year examples in FAO: 'gregarious' species table).

In Chinese culture, the bamboo, plum blossom, orchid, and chrysanthemum (often known as méi lán zhú jú ????) are collectively referred to as the Four Noble Ones. These four plants also represent the four seasons and, in Confucian ideology, four aspects of the junzi ("prince" or "noble one").

The pine tree, the bamboo, and the plum blossom (song zhú méi ???) are also admired for their perseverance under harsh conditions, and are together known as the "Three Friends in Winter" (????). The "Three Friends" is traditionally used as a system of ranking in Japan, for example in sushi sets or accommodations at a traditional Ryokan (inn). Pine (matsu ?) is of the first rank, bamboo (také ?) is of second rank, and plum (ume ?) is of the third.

In Japan, a bamboo forest sometimes surrounds a Shinto shrine as part of a sacred barrier against evil. Many Buddhist temples also have bamboo groves.

Bamboo symbolizes the spirit of Vovinam (a Vietnamese martial arts): "cuong nhu ph?i tri?n" (coordination between hard and soft (martial arts)). Bamboo also symbolizes the Vietnamese hometown and Vietnamese soul: the gentlemanlike, straightforwardness, hard working, optimism, unity and adaptableness. Furthermore, some scientists even regard that Vietnamese culture is bamboo culture. A Vietnamese proverb says: "When the bamboo is old, the bamboo sprouts appear", the meaning being Vietnam will never be annihilated; if the previous generation dies, the children take their place. Therefore the Vietnam nation and Vietnamese value will be maintained and developed eternally.

The Bozo, an ethnic group in West Africa, are so named because boso means "bamboo house" in Bamana (Bambara) and the other West Mande languages. The Bozo/Boso are traditional fisherpeople on the Niger River. To many people in Western Europe and North America, bamboo is a symbol of East Asia, while in fact many bamboo species grow naturally--and are used extensively in human culture--in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) Chinese scientist and polymath Shen Kuo (1031-1095) used the evidence of underground petrified bamboo found in the dry northern climate of Yan'an, Shanbei region, Shaanxi province to support his geological theory of gradual climate change.

Myths and legends

Several Asian cultures, including that of the Andaman Islands, believe that humanity emerged from a bamboo stem. In the Philippine creation myth, legend tells that the first man and the first woman each emerged from split bamboo stems on an island created after the battle of the elemental forces (Sky and Ocean). In Malaysian legends a similar story includes a man who dreams of a beautiful woman while sleeping under a bamboo plant; he wakes up and breaks the bamboo stem, discovering the woman inside. The Japanese folktale "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" (Taketori Monogatari) tells of a princess from the Moon emerging from a shining bamboo section. Hawaiian bamboo ('ohe) is a kinolau or body form of the Polynesian creator god Kane Milohai.

Bamboo cane is also the weapon of Vietnamese legendary hero Thánh Gióng- who had grown up immediately and magically since the age of 3 years old because of his national liberating wish against Ân invaders.

An ancient Vietnamese legend tells of a poor, young farmer who fell in love with his landlord's beautiful daughter. The farmer asked the landlord for his daughter's hand in marriage, but the proud landlord would not allow her to be bound in marriage to a poor farmer. The landlord decided to foil the marriage with an impossible deal; the farmer must bring him a "bamboo tree of one-hundred nodes". But Buddha (B?t) appeared to the farmer and told him that such a tree could be made from one-hundred nodes from several different trees. B?t gave to him four magic words to attach the many nodes of bamboo: "Kh?c nh?p, kh?c xu?t", which means "joined together immediately, fell apart immediately". The triumphant farmer returned to the landlord and demanded his daughter. Curious to see such a long bamboo, the landlord was magically joined to the bamboo when he touched it as the young farmer said the first two magic words. The story ends with the happy marriage of the farmer and the landlord's daughter after the landlord agreed to the marriage and asked to be separated from the bamboo.

Bamboo slip

Bamboo slip is a writing material that was initially used in ancient times in China, from the Zhou Dynasty and Warring States Period to the Wei and the Jin Dynasties. It was used most widely in the Chun Qiu period and the Warring states period. By about the 4th century, paper was already used extensively and replaced Bamboo slip as the primary writing material.

To form a bamboo slip, an article is written with a brush on several long, narrow, pared slices of bamboo. Only one line of words is written on each slice. The slices are then tied together to form what is called the "bamboo slip." This book form was typically used for writing essays.

Other aspects

Soft bamboo shoots, stems, and leaves are the major food source of the Giant Panda of China.

The plant marketed as "lucky bamboo" is actually an entirely unrelated plant, some people refer to it as the Gigi. Dracaena sanderiana. It is a resilient member of the lily family that grows in the dark, tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and Africa. Lucky Bamboo has long been associated with the Eastern practice of Feng Shui - or the bringing of natural elements of water, fire, earth, wood and metal into balance within the environment. It is believed to be an ideal example of the thriving wood and water element, with the addition of a red ribbon sometimes tied around the stalks - which is believed to "fire" the positive flow of energy or chi in the room. Japanese knotweed is also sometimes mistaken for a bamboo.

Bamboo charcoal is made of bamboo by pyrolysis process.

The Bamboo Curtain was a colloquial name for the boundary of communist nations in eastern Asia during the Cold War.

One of Thomas Edison's first commercially successful incandescent lamps used a filament of carbonized bamboo.


  • Puri, has a lot of snakes H.S. (2003) RASAYANA: Ayurvedic Herbs for Rejuvenation and Longivity. Taylor & Francis, London. (Banslochan pages 71-73)

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