For the annual 2006 orchid show at Rockefeller Center in New York City, there was something a little different: the bamboo plant. The New York Times raved about the bamboo sculptures that year, more than two tons of bamboo cut from 650 poles to complement the orchids. The bamboo sculptures were in the Japanese tradition of Sogetsu. David Horak, the president of the Greater New York Orchid Society, was quoted as saying the bamboo plant added to the display: “We see a fertile and stimulating relationship.”
The bamboo plant (family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae), is a grass, both decorative and useful. It is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It varies in height from 1 foot to over 100 feet tall. It can grow in various atmospheres, from jungle to mountainside, mostly in Asia and South America. There are nearly 1,000 different species of bamboo internationally.
The bamboo plant is used in gardens, as a major building material and as a food source. More recently, it has been used as an ecological alternative in “green” building materials. Bamboo is easy to grow and hard to get rid of. It is used in everything from floorboards to bed sheets.
The bamboo plant does not require pesticides in its growth. It creates little surface runoff, saving water as well. The Environmental Bamboo Foundation promotes the bamboo plant as an alternative because it absorbs ultraviolet light, carbon dioxide from the environment, that it provides aesthetic beauty, shade, acoustical barriers, and for its medicinal properties.
In Limon, Costa Rica, only bamboo houses from the national Bamboo Project stood after a violent earthquake shook there in the early 1990s.
The bamboo plant is tough and is used much like wood has been for centuries: as fencing, poles or vegetable stakes. It has been used to make musical instruments, furniture, jewelry, food or other items.
According to the American Bamboo Society, the bamboo plant is classified by the type of root it possesses. Bamboo can have a runner root, which spreads, or it can have a clumper root, which is slow to expand. Typically, tropical bamboo tends to be clumpers, and temperate climate bamboo tends to be runners.
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Bamboo reaches its full size in height and circumference in its first or second year. Its growth is limited to underground where it produces offshoots and roots. Flowering occurs only once every 10 years to half-century.
In China, the type of bamboo most associated with the giant panda is the Gelidocalamus fangianus. The bamboo plant is the main source of food for the giant panda.
For many who think of the bamboo plant they consider the popular “lucky bamboo,” the small, interior plant in their decorating or religious practice that is for sale in Chinatown. Lucky bamboo is labeled a shrub and not a grass. It is classified as Dracaena, Ribbon Dracaena or the Ribbon Plant – all of which are excellent types of interior plants – but none of which are bamboo.