One of the Fastest-Growing Plants in the World
Bamboo is a woody grass. It is the fastest-growing woody plant in the world. Some species of bamboo grow so fast you can almost see them grow. There are approximately 1,000 species of bamboo, ranging from small plants to giant timber bamboos that can grow to over 40 m. Bamboo grows in temperate and tropical countries around the world, especially in China and other countries in Southeast Asia. It is used for food, construction, and making tools. Bamboo is famous for being the main food of giant pandas. Giant pandas eat up to 20 kg of bamboo stems, shoots, and leaves each day.
It All Starts With a Rhizome
Bamboo grows from a rhizome, which is a horizontal, underground, continuous stem. The bamboo’s rhizome network acts as its roots. The rhizome brings nutrients and water up the stem to the leaves. It also helps support the plant. All new bamboo shoots sprout and grow from the rhizome.
Fully Grown in as Little as Four Years
Once the bamboo shoots have grown to their full size, they are called culms or canes. Most bamboo species reach maturity between four to five years. Some take up to 10 years. A bamboo culm growing from the same rhizome lives from 30 to 120 years, depending on the species of bamboo.
Click on the picture below to take a closer look at a bamboo plant.
Fast and Furious Growth
Some species of bamboo grow so fast you can almost see them grow. In Japan, one species grew 119 cm in 24 hours!
In the wild, many species of bamboo grow so thick with culms that other plant species cannot share the same space. On the ground, fallen bamboo leaves form a thick, golden mat that prevents other plants from taking root. Dense thickets of bamboo are almost impossible to travel through.
A Pandas Favorite Choice
Many animals around the world, including humans, use bamboo. But only the giant panda and the red panda are dependent on bamboo for their survival. Both species live in the temperate forests of China, where bamboo makes up the main part of their diet. Bamboo is not very nutritious, so giant pandas and red pandas need to eat a lot of it each day. A single giant panda eats over 4,500 kg of bamboo each year!
Giant pandas have a diet that consists almost completely of bamboo. A giant panda may eat bamboo for 10-12 hours a day. That’s a lot of eating!©K.Feng/GLOBIO.org
A Dangerous Diet
The close link between bamboo and pandas can sometimes be dangerous for the pandas. Every 50 years, bamboo in the southwestern mountains of China flowers. It creates seeds and then dies off over large areas of hillside forest.
Red pandas, like giant pandas, eat mostly bamboo. Giant pandas and red pandas share the same habitat and the same food in the temperate forests of China.©K.Feng/GLOBIO.org
Afterward, the whole area looks lifeless. It takes a few years for the bamboo to grow back from new seeds. With a large part of their food supply gone, this can mean disaster for pandas. Chinese researchers carefully watch how the bamboo in the mountains is growing. They plan to help the pandas if too much bamboo dies off.
Giant pandas and red pandas are not the only animals that like bamboo. Many other species, like this mountain gorilla in Africa, eat bamboo. People in some parts of the world like to eat tender bamboo shoots.©G.Ellis/GLOBIO.org
A Plant with 101 Uses (at Least)!
For centuries, bamboo has been one of the most used plants in the world. In many countries, bamboo is one of the most important building materials. The fiber in its stem is so strong that bamboo stems can be used in construction of buildings and bridges. People have even built bamboo bicycles. Bamboo can also be laminated, or sealed together, using different types of glues. After laminating, the new bamboo material is as strong as some types of steel!
Large bamboo, sometimes called timber bamboo, is used as the main supports in houses. Because bamboo is strong and inexpensive, it is used in many countries to build scaffolding used on the outside of new buildings as they are being built.
Bamboo is very strong and grows back quickly after it is harvested. Bamboo is used to make scaffolding for building construction, wood flooring, and furniture, among many other things.©G.Ellis/GLOBIO.org
In Japanese gardens and house interiors, bamboo is a traditional material. Poles tied together are used for gates, fences, and walls. Large timber bamboo is also split into thick strips and used for floors and walkways.
Humans also eat bamboo. People in China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and other places throughout Southeast Asia boil and eat the tender, young shoots of several tropical bamboo species.
Here Today, Here Tomorrow
The great thing about using bamboo is that it grows back after it is cut. Some people have called bamboo the world’s most perfectrenewable resource. Bamboo is a resource valuable to many people. There are many different species, and they can grow in many differentclimates around the world. Bamboo is also attractive and inexpensive to grow, which makes it an affordable material for many people.