Bamboo, a woody plant of the grass family. There are about 1,000 species of bamboos. They grow throughout the tropical and semitropical regions of the world, especially in southern Asia, at altitudes ranging from sea level to 13,000 feet (4,000 m). The pygmy bamboo of Japan is about the size of field grass, while in China, India, and the northern Andes Mountains of South America there are bamboos 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter and 120 feet (37 m) tall.
The culm, or stem, of most species of bamboo, like that of most grasses, is hollow and jointed. The culms grow rapidly, reaching their full height in two months or less. They do not grow thicker; the new shoots (sprouts) have their full diameter when they emerge. Delicate leaves growing from the upper nodes (joints) give the top of the culm a feathery look. Bamboo grows in dense groves, new culms being produced by rhizomes (underground stems).
Many species of bamboo flower only at long intervals—30, 60, or 120 years. When flowering occurs, all plants of that species, all over the world, flower at about the same time. Then the culms die. The grove, however, does not die, because some rhizomes survive to send up new shoots and some seeds take root. But it takes about five years for a grove to become fully reestablished, and the culms are not suitable for harvesting until they are three to five years old.
In some parts of Asia entire houses are made of bamboo. Bamboo poles form the framework and bamboo splints are woven into latticework for walls and partitions. Split bamboo is used for floors, and roofs are made of bamboo leaves laid on bamboo poles.
Sections of culm with a node at one end, depending on their size, serve as cups, bottles, jars, and other containers. Bamboo shoots are used in many Oriental (especially Chinese) dishes, and bamboo seeds can be roasted and eaten.
Knives are made from the outer wall of the culm, and paper from the inner wall. Many products are made of bamboo for export or tourist trade in Asian countries. Masts of boats are made from culms, and culms with the nodes bored out are used as water pipes. Bows and arrows are also made from bamboo.
Large amounts of bamboo are imported into Western countries to make curtains, umbrella handles, walking sticks, fishing poles, baskets, chairs, cages, and wicker work. Cellulose extracted from bamboo is used in the manufacture of rayon and other man-made textiles. Carbonized bamboo served as the filament in early electric light bulbs.
Bamboos are members of the family Gramineae. There are more than 50 genera. Only two species are native to the United States. Arundinaria gigantea is the giant cane of the canebrakes of the South. It grows as far north as Virginia and as far west as Louisiana. It reaches 25 feet (7.6 m) in height. The switch cane, A. tecta, grows to 12 feet (3.7 m), and may be found from Maryland and Indiana to Texas. Bamboos that grow as tall as 100 feet (30 m) include Bambusa arundinacea of India (which now also grows in Florida) and Dendrocalamus giganteus of Burma.