Bamboo is a kind of grass that belongs to the Gramineae and forms the tribe Bambusoceae of the subfamily Bambusoideae. Often, it has a tree-like habit and can be characterized as having woody, usually hollow culms which cannot be bent easily unless split, complex rhizome and branch systems and prominent sheaths.
Species of Bamboos
There are an estimated 1000 or so species of bamboo belonging to about 80 genera in the world. Of these, about 200 species of which are found in South-East Asia and belong to approximately 20 genera. Many of the species are indigenous to the monsoon area of South-East Asia. Some species are utilized and widely found in the region, whereas others are present only in limited areas but are extensively used.
Origin and Geographic Distribution
Bamboos occur in the tropical, subtropical and temperate regions of all continents except Europe and western Asia, from lowlands up to 4000 m altitude. Most, however, occur at low to medium elevations in the tropics, growing wild, cultivated or naturalized in a great variety of habitats.
Most genera of bamboo are still not well understood. Precise information on their origin are still unavailable. However, there has been some speculation on possible centers of diversity of bamboos, such as tropical America, Madagascar, and the region including southern China and northern Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Vietnam. The genera in tropical America (about 20, reasonably well defined) are not found outside the region, whereas all known native species in Madagascar are endemic. The geographical distribution of bamboo is greatly influenced by human activities. Forest destruction, e,g. by logging and building of new roads, has encouraged the spread of native bamboos, which subsequently become abundant and form mixed or pure bamboo forests.
Special Characteristics of Bamboo
Bamboo is one of the most important nature’s substitute for the endangered rainforest hardwoods. It is a quick-growing, versatile , non-timber forest product whose rate of biomass generation is unsurpassed by any other plants. With a 10-30 % annual increase in biomass versus 2-5 % for trees, bamboo creates greater yields of raw material for use. It is utilized extensively for a wide range of purposes. The strength of the culms, their straightness, smoothness, lightness combined with hardness and greater hollowness; the facility and regularity with which they can be split; the different sizes, various lengths and thickness of their joints make them suitable for numerous end products/purposes. The versatility of bamboo outmatches most tree species. It is known to be a natural and excellent raw material for manufacturing strong and sturdy furniture, handicrafts, and novelty items.
Listed below are some of the characteristics of bamboo:
- an effective erosion control plant and natural control barrier due to its widespread root system and large canopy;
- reduces runoff, prevents massive soil erosion;
- keeps twice so much water in the watershed;
- sustains riverbanks;
- protects surrounding environment during typhoons due to its height;
- regenerates and resilient even after strong typhoons;
- helps mitigate water pollution due to its high nitrogen consumption;
- minimizes CO2 gases (sequesters up to 12 tons of CO2 from the air per hectare); and
- generates up to 35% more oxygen then equivalent stand of trees.
Bamboo is an important component of development wherein all types of people have adequate access to. It requires little attention during its growing/production cycle and can occupy the same ecological niche as that of trees. It is well suited for agroforestry and healthy ecosystems. It requires only a modest capital investment to generate a steady income. Around the globe, a lot of individuals and communities are dependent on bamboo for their subsistence, shelter and every-day utilities.
Uses of Bamboo
No other plant material can rival the utility of bamboo. Even in the early years, bamboo had been used in many ways, not to mention the traditional use of bamboo in the daily life of the early people especially in Asia. Thomas Edison successfully used a carbonized bamboo filament in his experiment with the first light bulb. He also used a bamboo as rebar for the reinforcement of his swimming pool. Similarly, Alexander Graham Bell made use of bamboo for his first phonograph needle. To this day, an innumerable application of bamboo can be thought of.
Increase knowledge and research on the production and utilization of bamboo continue to create economic impact and emergence of new industries and products. Other than its traditional use for handicrafts and novelty items, new engineered applications which include lumber, veneer, strand and particle boards, plywood and other laminates, and emergent technologies of high strength bio-composites have been developed.
Bamboo is useful for various applications at different ages :
- 6-9 months – for making baskets
- 2-3 years – for bamboo boards or laminations
- 3-6 years – for construction
- >6 years – bamboo gradually loses strength up to 12 years old