Bamboo is the name given to a group of perennial evergreen plant that is commonly found in Eastern Asia, the Americas, Australasia and sub-Saharan Africa. In Eastern and South Eastern Asia, the plant is of high economic importance, where it is used in gardens, for food and as a crucial material for building.
As a woody plant, it is hardy, and can be found growing in a diverse range of climates – from the tropical jungle environment of Chile, to the high cold mountain slopes of the himalayas. In fact it is only Canada, Europe, Antarctica and Western Asia where bamboo is not found as a native plant species! It has however been introduced to these areas too, and usually takes to the climates in these places just as easily.
One of the main factors behind the usefulness of bamboo over history, and indeed its success as a plant on such a large scale, is the rate at which it grows. As the fastest growing plant on earth, bamboo has been measured at having a growth rate exceeding one metre per hour for short periods. Studies have the record for daily growth as 121cm over a 24-hour period. Although the modern plant is a little shorter, heights of 250 feet were not unusual for prehistoric bamboo varieties!
Uses of Bamboo
The first exposure most people in the western world have to bamboo is probably as part of a Chinese (or other East Asian) meal! The shoots of bamboo are often used in many Asian dishes, and are readily available sliced in fresh and canned form from most supermarkets. The sap of young stalks can also be tapped to make a sweet wine called ulanzi.
Continuing the culinary theme, larger bamboo stalks, because of their hollowness, are often used as cooking vessels. The food can be placed in the stalk, and then cooked directly over the flame.
For construction, harvested bamboo can be treated to form a very hard and lightweight material. This can be used as supports in traditional Asian housing, as scaffolding, or even as a replacement for steel reinforced rods in concrete style construction. Steamed and flattened sections of bamboo are also becoming popular as an alternative to more traditional wooden flooring panels.
One of the more recent uses for Bamboo is as a fibre for making clothing fabric. In this incarnation, bamboo has been found to have several desirable properties; it is very light and extremely soft, making it very comfortable to wear; it also wicks moisture away from the skin, making it ideal clothing for carrying out exercise in (i.e. yogo, or jogging) or as a material for baby clothing and accessories.