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Why Bamboo?

The plant

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. They come in many forms from bushlike cattle fodder to towering culms over 120 feet high. The stems are jointed, with regular nodes; each node bears one leaf, and may also have one to several side branches. They are thus, unlike most other grasses, extensively branched; in large-growing species a single stem may carry many thousands of branchlets.

A single stem of bamboo (culm) from an established root system typically reaches full height in just one year, but then persists for several years, gradually increasing the number of side branches and branchlets.

Some species of bamboo rarely flower, some of them only every 10-100 or more years. Some of these species are monocarpic, the plant dying after the seed matures. Furthermore, all the individuals of the species will flower at the same time in a large geographical region. This is thought to have evolved to reduce the effect of predators of the seed, who would be unable to depend on a predictable food supply.

Bamboos include some 76 genera and 1500 species. They are broadly divided into “sympodial” (clumping bamboos) and “monopodial” (running bamboos), this defines the growing behavior of the rizome (bamboo’s rootlike structure). Clumping bamboo species tend to spread underground slowly. Running bamboo species are highly variable in their tendency to spread; this is related to both the species and the soil and climate conditions. 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.

Bamboos tolerate extremes of habitats from drought to flood and grow from sea level to 12,000 feet in elevation. They occur from Northeast Asia, 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.

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