Monday, February 11, 2013

Bamboo -- Fastest Growing Plant on Earth

I have a large forest of bamboo on my property. It started out as a patch that my dad planted approximately, thirty years ago and has spread into surrounding woods, my northwest yard which had much of nothing but grass and upwards toward my house consuming blueberry bushes and muscadine vines (1/2 acre or more). However, I can only blame myself for some of the invasion, stupidity for not understanding this plant or it's growth rate and some blame to the plant for it's aggressive nature having no regard for other well established plants in the landscape. That said, I still like bamboo and it's many uses for gardeners, as well as, other artisan endeavors.
Bamboo is excellent to use in the garden for bean poles, to make tents and trellis for vine vegetables and flowers, even support for indoor potted plants. This fibrous plants' strength ratio to size is amazing. We're able to use the cut poles for many seasons before replacing them with new poles for green beans.

Bamboo is a member of the grass family. There are two types, running and clump. Unfortunately, I have the running type in my yard which is more aggressive and can overwhelm surrounding areas (depending on the soil and climate) in a matter of seasons.

Pictured above is a rhizome (or root) that grows horizontally underground and can spread twenty feet or more in one season. The clump type of bamboo is less aggressive and multiply by the root from the clump. Bamboo have ten genera divided into approximately 1450 species.

Some varieties of bamboo is native to many continents, whether warm or temperate to include, Asia, Australia, Africa, North and South America. Often thought of as only growing in hot tropical or temperate climates it can grow in cooler mountain areas.

The individual stems, as seen above are called culms. They emerge from the rhizome in spring at full diameter and can grow to thirty feet tall depending on the variety. These culms can grow 39 inches in 24 hours and don't sprout the leaves on stems until they have reached their full height met in maturity. Many bamboo varieties only flower every 65 to 100 years (probably why I haven't seen any bamboo flowers in my yard).

Due to it's strength,  and versatility, bamboo, especially in Asian and tropical countries has been used for medicine (infection and healing), culinary dishes (shoots are edible), musical instruments, fishing rods, weapons (spears, etc.), housing to include furniture, textiles, paper and more for centuries.

Modern day manufacturing includes, flooring, blinds and all of the above plus more.

In China bamboo is the major food source of the beloved Giant Panda, Red Panda in Nepal and Mountain Gorillas in Africa.

If you plan to plant bamboo in your landscape, care should be taken to insure this plant (that can be invasive) is tended appropriately, as removing it can take patience and hard work once it is established. Choose a variety to fit your landscape (running bamboo needs 360 degrees and lots of room to grow). Cut back at least every two years to maintain growth in a specific area or plant three feet deep in a container to prevent the spread of the fastest growing plant on Earth.
Besides the use in the garden of bamboo canes, I like the symbols of this plant. In China the symbol stands for "longevity" and in India the symbol stands for "friendship".
Until next time.......
Happy Gardening 2013!
Posted by Wilma Smith 

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