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Bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan
Bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Bambusoideae
Supertribe: Bambusodae
Tribe: Bambuseae
Kunth ex Dumort.
Around 91 genera and 1,000 species

See the full Taxonomy of the Bambuseae.

Bamboos are a group of woody perennial evergreen plants in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Some of its members are giants, forming by far the largest members of the grass family.

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 from Northeast Asia (at 50°N latitude in Sakhalin), south throughout East Asia west to the Himalaya, and south to northern Australia. They also occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Americas from the southeast of the USA south to Chile, there reaching their furthest south anywhere, at 47°S latitude. Major areas with no native bamboos include Europe, north Africa, western Asia, northern North America, most of Australia, and Antarctica.



Bamboo foliage with yellow stems (probably Phyllostachys aurea)
File:Phyllostachys nigra folium.jpg
Bamboo foliage with black stems (probably Phyllostachys nigra)

Many bamboos are popular in cultivation as garden plants. In cultivation, care needs to be taken of their potential for invasive behavior. They spread mainly through their roots and/or rhizomes, which can spread widely underground and send off new culms to break through the surface. There are two patterns for the spreading of bamboo, "clumping" (monopodial) and "running" (sympodial). Clumping bamboo species tend to spread underground slowly. Swimming 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 several meters a year, while others can stay in the same general area for long periods. If neglected, they can be invasive over time and can cause problems by moving into adjacent areas. The reputation of bamboo as being highly invasive is often exaggerated, and situations where it has taken over large areas is often the result of years of untended or neglected plantings.

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 will keep spreading.

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. Hooks, shovels and picks are usual tools. The rhizomes are generally very close to the surface(just under a sod layer), so, if rhizome pruning is done twice a year, it will sever most, if not all, of the new growth. 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 should be removed. 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 they stay in the ground.

The second way is by surrounding it with a physical barrier. Concrete and specially rolled HDPE plastic are usual materials. 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. Strong rhizomes and tools can penetrate plastic barriers with relative ease, so great care must be taken. 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 taken out if they get too large.


Culinary uses

Edible bamboo shoots.

The shoots (new bamboo culms that come out of the ground) of bamboo, called zhú sǔn (simplified: ; traditional: ) or simply sǔn () in Chinese, are edible. They are used in numerous Asian dish and broth, and are available in supermarkets in various sliced forms, both fresh and canned version. Bamboo shoot tips are called zhú sǔn jiān () or simply sǔn jiān ().

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. Zhúyèqīng jiǔ (竹葉青酒) 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.

Bamboo is used in Chinese medicine for treating infections. It is also a low calorie source of potassium.

Other uses

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Bamboo scaffolding can reach great heights.
Bicycle frame made of bamboo (1896)

When treated, bamboo forms a very hard wood which is both light and exceptionally tough. In tropical climates it is used in elements of house construction, as well as for fences, bridges, toilets, walking sticks, canoes, drinkware, furniture, chopsticks, food steamers, toys, construction scaffolding, as a substitute for steel reinforcing rods in concrete construction, hats, martial arts weaponry, abaci and various musical instruments such as the dizi, xiao, shakuhachi, palendag, jinghu, and angklung. The Bamboo Organ of Las Pinas, Philippines has pipes made of bamboo culms. When bamboo is harvested for wood, care is needed to select mature stems that are several years old, as first-year stems, although full size, are not fully woody and are not strong.

Bamboo is also widely carved for decorative artwork. Modern companies are 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 carving, right).

Bamboo canes are normally round in cross-section, but square canes can be produced by forcing the new 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 fibre 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 the fibre can be used for yarn and fabrics. Bamboo fabric is notable for its soft feel and natural antibacterial properties. Clothing made from bamboo fibre is popular for activities such as yoga. Bed sheets and towels made from bamboo have become luxury items. Sharpened bamboo is also traditionally used to tattoo in Japan, Hawaii and elsewhere.

Bamboo is also used as a shank extension on smoking pipes. Often a bamboo shank is added as a repair when a shank is cracked with use or to repair a flaw during manufacture.

A variety 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 & snowboard deck manufacturers are beginning to use bamboo construction. It is both lighter and stronger than traditional materials and its cultivation is environmentally friendly.

Bamboo is also used to make enclosures in fish farming, where cages can be made from a wooden frame and bamboo lattices. It is also used to make the high-end lightweight fishing rods used in fly fishing.

Bamboo in human culture

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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 'gregarious' species table).

In Chinese culture, the bamboo (zhú 竹), plum blossom (méi 梅), orchid (lán 蘭), and chrysanthemum ( 菊) (usually, méi lán zhú jú 梅蘭竹菊) are collectively referred to as the Four Noble Ones (四君子). These four plants also represent the four seasons and, in Confucian ideology, four aspects of the junzi (君子 "prince" or "noble one"). The pine tree (松), the bamboo, and the plum blossom (sōng zhú méi 松竹梅) are also admired for their perseverance under harsh conditions, and are together known as the "Three Friends in Winter" (歲寒三友).

In Japan, a bamboo forest sometimes surrounds a Shinto shrine as part of a sacred barrier against evil. Also, bamboo (také 竹) indicates something of the second rank, (as a sushi set or accommodations at a traditional Ryokan (inn)). This comes from the Chinese phrase 松竹梅 (in Japanese, sho-chiku-bai), where pine (matsu 松) is of the first rank, and plum (ume 梅) is of the third.

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 Vietnamese tradition will be maintained and developed eternally.

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 were split open from a bamboo stem that emerged 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.

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 sections". The benevolent god Bụt appeared to the farmer and told him that such a tree could be made from one-hundred sections from several different trees. Bụt gave to him four magic words to attach the many sections of bamboo: "Khắc nhập, khắc xuất", which means "put in immediately, take out immediately". The triumphant farmer returned to the landlord and demanded his daughter. The story ends with the happy marriage of the farmer and the landlord's daughter.

Other aspects

Bamboo is the main food of the Giant Panda; it makes up 99% of the Panda's diet.

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 species, Dracaena sanderiana.

See also



External links

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