Bamboo: The Miracle Crop From the Past and a Hope for the Future
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Bamboo: The Miracle Crop From the Past and a Hope for the Future

From construction, building material to food and even 'lucky bamboo' houseplants, bamboo is a truly useful plant that is good for the environment.

 

From Food, Construction Material to Lucky Bamboo Houseplant...

Bamboo is being used in a number of innovative ways. Both old and new which include of course food, building material, environmental uses, decorative and functional objects of everyday need. This material is multi-functional, fast-growing and renewable. If ever there was an environmental product that could call itself “green” it would have to be bamboo.

We’ve probably all seen these images before, bamboo lashed together to form complicated vertical scaffolding. Lighter than steel and stronger than carbon fibre, this eco-friendly product is coming of age. We shall be seeing more and more of this versatile plant used in innovative ways in everyday life in the years to come.

Bamboo Scaffolding

bamboo scaffolding

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The above actually looks more like a Borg Cube from Star Trek: The Next Generation than a building scaffolding, but it is very stunning all the same.

Bamboo Bicycle

bamboo bicycle frame

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More and more uses for it are being created, even bamboo bicycle frames. One of the earliest bicycle frames made from bamboo goes back to 1896! This is being rediscovered and people seem to enjoy seeing these unusual bikes.

Skateboards can benefits from the use of bamboo. Currently, skateboards are constructed with layers of resilient hardwood sheets and toxic epoxies for strength. When the skateboard reaches the end of its useful life, they are discarded. The toxic materials of epoxies, varnish and shellacs are released into the environment. A bamboo skateboard would be compostable. No pollution, no toxic materials.

Other innovative uses for bamboo include furniture, baskets, blinds and other window treatments, place-mats, musical instruments, eating and serving utensils and a very satisfactory substitute for hardwood flooring. Typically, commercial bamboo is grown and harvested over a three year cyclic period. A hardwood forest may take decades to be renewed, if ever. Often after a hardwood forest is exhausted, faster-growing softwoods are planted in their place. Trees like oak, ash, beech and hard maple are dwindling due to the demand for hardwood products. Bamboo is a renewable alternative, -not to mention an effective carbon sink as well.

Bamboo Forest in Los Angeles

bamboo forest in Los Angeles

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Common to Asia and the tropics, this hard hollow-stemmed grass can be grown in many different climates. There are even species of bamboo which can be grown in cold weather climates to the north including every Province in Canada!

There are many different types of bamboo; some are more for green decoration such as sound barriers and property border decoration than for intensive uses such as scaffolding and construction.

Lucky Bamboo

potted bamboo plant, available at many plant nurseries and the plant section of grocery stores

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Often found in ‘Big Box’ and other stores with home garden centers, one can get smaller versions of bamboo for the home. Usually, these are called “lucky bamboo” and often they are grown into intricate shapes and designs, trellises and braided or twisted like ornate bonsai trees. These are easy to grow and require virtually no care. There are hundreds of species of bamboo found throughout the world in a variety of climates, from tropical to dry dwelling species. These miniature bonsai for the home are some of the most common.

Sliced Bamboo Shoot

bamboo shoot, sliced. It looks like a sliced pineapple

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Wow if this doesn’t look like some kind of funked-out pineapple! You just know it tastes good! Bamboo is one of the fastest growing materials on Earth, growing two possibly three feet per day has been recorded! Bamboo grows almost as fast as sea kelp, making it potentially very useful food source also. The fast-growth suggests a good use would also be for animal feed as well, renewable in short term. As a food source for thousands of years, bamboo has a rich history of uses, it was used in the construction of the Wright Brother’s first airplane, Edison’s light bulb used filaments of bamboo and the modern day use of bamboo pulp for erosion control on riverbanks and floodplains has proven to be quite useful.

We’ve probably all heard of that urban legend of a form of torture allegedly used by the Japanese in WW-II where a prisoner is staked over a grove of new bamboo shoots. As the bamboo grew it pierces the body and snakes its way around ribs, other bones, to emerge on the other side of the body.

On the television program “MythBusters” they attempted to replicate this visage using a ‘crash test dummy’ fabricated with lifelike materials that emulate the firmness and density of the human body and yes, the growing bamboo shoots did in fact pierce the faux body with enough penetrative force to ply its way around and in between bones. This ‘myth’ was determined to be entirely plausible, that growing bamboo would indeed grow tortuously (and terminally) through a human body if so staked to the ground. Ouch!

Delicious Stir-Fried Bamboo Tips

stir-fried bamboo tips

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-Still seeing that demonstration from MythBusters in my mind, I’d rather eat bamboo and not be fed to or impaled by it. Mmm, -no sharp edges and doesn’t this looks delicious OMG Yum! Every day, bamboo feeds millions possibly billions of people around the world. This fast-growing crop should be utilized more, cultivated where it can used for food, building material and shelter to take the pressure off of existing local sources that do not replenish as quickly.

Bamboo Shoots at Base of Larger Tree

bamboo tip peeking up out of the ground

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In some forms of bamboo, flowering cycles are infrequent and can last for many decades and even longer than 100-120 years, flooding an area with its seeds and expanding its range during this time. It is suggested that saturating the area with its flowers and seeds in unison will ensure its survival, even in a predator-filled environment. No matter how much bamboo the predominate predator or predator species eats, there will always be an over-abundance that get to reproduce and grow. This is just a theory and one that is disputed because the flowering cycle is so much longer than the longest lifespan of its predator, which goes against the basics of this theory. -Why would nature build-up a local specie population for a hundred or more years with an abundant food supply then undergo a massive die-off as a means of ‘population control?’ This is the entire basis for the theory, which as stated does not explain the century-plus long cycles. That is the main reason this theory is believed to be inaccurate, the duration of this cycle. There is something else going on with this.

Either way, when then the flowering cycle ceases for that specie that variety of bamboo die off everywhere, despite geographic location. This seems to be like an ‘internal clock’ going off, perhaps something global having to do with the position of the sun in the equatorial plane of the galaxy that we do not understand? Or perhaps the bamboo releases some death pheromone that causes all other bamboos of that specie to respond in kind, a release that spreads the signal to the winds of the planet like nightfall descending? When this happens of course, a region that depends upon bamboo for food, building and housing material faces a crisis of lack of raw material for a lifestyle acquired. The 30-35 cycles of bamboo fruiting and increases of rat populations and plagues of typhus and bubonic plague in the Bay of Bengal region are closely tied to the flowering and fruiting of bamboo, followed by the die-off cycles of the local bamboo populations.

Bamboo Grove Walkway

bamboo grove by a walking trail

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A beautiful walkway adorned with growing bamboo. Shade and protection from the sound and effects of city living, bamboo is so versatile and appreciated. It is difficult to believe that bamboo is really just a specie of grass.

Pit Viper in the Bamboo Grove

pit viper snake in the bamboo grove

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Yes, even in Eden there are snakes. Found in Asia, India and China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, the venomous pit viper can be found. There are 35 different species recognized and being eaters of rats and other small mammals, times of plenty in bamboo groves that mean more rats also favors more snakes.

Bamboo and the Giant Panda

panda bear eating bamboo leaves and shoots

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And last but not least, bamboo is the primary food of the panda. Bamboo comprises about 99% of the Giant Panda’s diet, with fish, bird eggs, oranges, bananas, wild yams and honey are on the menu when encountered in the wild. In case you were wondering, the type of bamboo used for making hardwood floor tiles is the not the same type of bamboo that panda eat.

I can imagine what a quasi-centennial solar variation die-off of bamboo would mean to the small population of remaining pandas in the wild. Hopefully, there are enough species of bamboo with different flowering/fruiting season to accommodate these black and white bears of central and southwestern China. Pandas and bamboo are inexorably linked, -they need each other.

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Comments (4)

got a laugh at how you tied in Star Trek to an article about Bamboo. Apparently there are species that will grow here in Alberta Canada, but we havent tried it yet. I am concerned about it being invasive and in the countryside that isnt too good.

I lived in Hong Kong through the 80's, and bamboo scaffolding was used everywhere. It was a lot less dangerous to have that flying around than steel girders in a typhoon. Great and thorough article about bamboo, Stickman.

excellent article! very informative.

In my travels I found a small bamboo forest here in zone 6. Trying to figure out how to use this. What parts can you eat? Are all species edible?

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