What is bamboo?
Bamboos are giant, woody grasses which put out several full length, full diameter, naturally pre-finished, ready-to-use "stems"-called culms-each year. They range from plants the size of field grass to giants of 120 feet in height (about as tall as a 12-story building) and a foot in thickness. The most striking characteristic of bamboo is its vertical growth. No other living thing grows so tall so fast. The world's record was one of Japan's most common bamboos (Phyllostachys bambusoides), which grew almost 4 feet in one day.
Is bamboo an ecologically sound choice?
Bamboo is considered one of the fastest growing plants known. Bamboo renews itself in three to five years, without the need for replanting. Cultivation requires minimal need of fertilizers and pesticides. By comparison, hardwood trees can take up to 120 years to mature (conventional growth period for framing lumber and hardwood is 30 to 60 years).
In addition to bamboo's many uses as a building material, in its natural state, the plant generates more oxygen than a similar-size grove of trees. A small stand of bamboo can reduce the temperature in its immediate environment by as much as 10 degrees.
Most bamboo is harvested from controlled forests in China (in the southern province of Hunan). This is not a threat to pandas, which live at higher elevations and eat a different species of bamboo.
Why is bamboo's popularity growing?
The growing enthusiasm for bamboo is attributed partially to an American interest in the Asian aesthetic, but also to the remarkable versatility of bamboo. With the best strength-to-weight ratio of any natural product and incredible regenerative powers, bamboo is rapidly becoming the material of choice for forward-thinking designers and manufacturers.
What varieties of bamboo are there?
There are between 1,100 to 1,500 species of bamboo in the world, with over 600 species of bamboo growing in Japan alone.
What uses are there for bamboo?
Bamboo is one of the most versatile plants in the world, with well over a thousand applications for the grass. The documented traditional uses for bamboo run from bikes and clothing to scaffolding, flooring and furniture.
Bamboo's popularity is surging among designers for use in making shoes, jewelry and handbags. Retailers like Bamboo 54 have built entire lines around bamboo's stylish versatility, while Gucci recently incorporated bamboo in such diverse ways as a clutch bag and as a stiletto for a sandal.
Scandinavia imports bamboo for ski poles and to mark the borders of roads buried under snow. Larger culms are used by makers of fishing rods and furniture. Two-thirds of the bamboo China produces is used to make furniture and building supplies, and as reinforcement rods in concrete and heavy construction.
Natural, elegant and beautiful, bamboo flooring is becoming all the rage. Bamboo's intrinsic strength and stability make it ideal for flooring, and its pricing is competitive with that of domestic hardwoods, with prices ranging from $5 to $8 per square foot. The coatings on pre-finished bamboo flooring products are UV-cured, with low emissions of VOCs. Bamboo flooring is installed in a similar way to hardwood floors (meaning nailed to a subfloor).
Bamboo floors are easy to care for—sweep or vacuum regularly and use non-alkaline cleaning solutions.
Bamboo can be used for making paper of many kinds, from heavy brown to fine-coated printing stock. On a paper hungry planet rapidly being denuded of its forests, bamboo may yet be a savior. The modern paper industry has expanded to such an extent that 2.2 million tons of bamboo are used in India for this purpose.
Bamboo's role in the construction field is substantial, with hundreds of millions of people living in houses made from bamboo. In Bangladesh, 73 percent of the population lives in bamboo houses.
Young bamboo shoots are highly prized in Japan for their delicate flavor and texture and are an important seasonal dish in Japanese cuisine. Bamboo shoots are a source of carbohydrate, vegetable fat, protein and vitamin B, which improves blood circulation.
Although wood charcoal makes a good fuel, bamboo charcoal is almost three times as porous as wood and bamboo charcoal contains a large amount of minerals, such as iron, manganese and potassium, making it a much more effective fuel and odor remover. Although it is not readily available in the U.S., you can find it through some oversees Websites.