We have just planted a large, clumping bamboo in a huge replica of the common or garden terra cotta pot by our neighbour’s fence. Ideally, I am hoping to put two more the same along that fence to make our garden more private and to mask the neighbour’s paranoid electric fence. I think they will like it too as it will mean we can’t see into their backyard from our upstairs terraces.
After I planted it I had to go away for a week and on my return, was pleasantly surprised to see how it was already thickening up and shooting more leaves. Perhaps I will only need one more pot at this rate!
Bamboo is definitely the ‘wonder grass’!
The scientific details are that it is the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. The varieties range from tiny bon sai sizes to massive, panda supporting with their hollow stems as big as five inches. The bamboo flower, one of the Four Noble Ones, is very rare and in China, the last flowering happening in 2006. It has been believed to be an indicator of impending famine and only occurs every fifty years or so.
There are more than 1,400 species of this versatile plant which is, seriously, a member of the grass family. Don’t be tempted to plant it as a lawn though. Pest resistant and able to adapt to a range of soil qualities, it is not the water guzzler you would think it to be, though it does thrive in humidity and with additional moisture applied. Nitrogenous fertilizers or companion plants (clover, wattle trees) will make it go nuts.
Almost a thousand are tropical varieties (north of BrisVegas) and the rest grow best in temperate zones (Melbourne etc.). Several species are actually native to Australia. Though to most of us, bamboo is chopstick material, Asian and made into furniture sold at Ishka and David Wang.
Some species of bamboo can grow up to sixty centimetres a day in the right conditions and it is catalogued as the world’s fastest growing plant. Sustainability is its middle name!
The canes must be harvested when the culms, or canes, reach their greatest strength when the sap is not full of sugar, cutting in the morning before full sunrise being ideal. (End of dry season) This prevents pest infestation. Each culm lives through a five year life cycle and they take all of this time to reach full harvesting potential or half that time if the garden is pruned with dead leaves and culms cut out. All growth of new bamboo occurs during the wet season and the plant needs to be left alone at that time as the sap is rising.
I notice that there are a lot of perfumes and disinfectants now claiming bamboo as a perfume. It doesn’t have much of a smell really, just a bit grassy and fresh but may be used as a base.
Some uses include:
- Floating and fixed flooring.
- Plates, cups and cutlery (disposable or not – they are nice and rigid).
- Bird Cages
- Bamboo filters for desalination
- Bicycle frames (beware of the fixatives and glues in these)
- Matchstick and other blinds and frames for window covers
- Fabric for various uses including towels, sheets and clothing.
- Umbrella frames
- Pickled bamboo from the pith
- Cooking implements
- Curing tea (tea is compressed into bamboo stalks)
- Boats, canoes and kayaks
- Hair and paint brushes
- Tooth brushes
- Public seating (it can be coated to be weather proof)
- Incense rods
- Firewood & charcoal
- Fishing gear
- Waterproof buckets
- Garden tools and furniture
- Steamers for food
- Picture frames
- Baby nappies (diapers)
- Sanitary napkins
- Walking sticks and crutches as they can be made rigid
- Water pipes (think ‘Japanese garden’!) and stakes
- Musical instruments (Flutes of course, and Gamelan and wind chimes, guitars etc.)
- Roofing shingles
- Scaffolding (heh heh, but it probably shouldn’t – we have seen some doozies!)
- Bamboo shoots for eating raw or cooked
- Ethanol of the cellulose kind
- Spears and other scary weapons
- Construction ( You could build an entire bamboo house!)
- Beautiful ornamental garden plants
- Meditation gardens
Note that there are two distinct types of bamboo – clumping and running. Choose clumping for control. The running type makes a great living fence but if you change your mind a few years down the track you will almost need a bulldozer to remove it. And it gets into drains.
So with this amazing versatility and ease of growing, why on earth don’t we grow more of it? I can remember the Melbourne Zoo calling for bamboo of a certain type from home gardens to feed visiting pandas. I tried unsuccessfully to grow a running bamboo fence in Ballarat – the kangaroos ate it very fast. In Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens the bamboo forest was such an attraction for us as tiny children that I would take my own kids to play hide and seek there – that is, until we were told off by the security guards. I didn’t realize at the time that the rules had changed. Oh dear.
The sound of the gentle clunking of the old culms and the swishing of the leaves is very peaceful and for now, bamboo is my favourite plant for many reasons!