What is bamboo?

One of the many products that bamboo can be used for is hardwood flooring.

Bamboo is a type of grass with a hard, woody, hollow stem. It is an evergreen perennial, meaning it grows each year and stays green all year round. Hundreds of types grow in different regions of the world and people use them in everything from construction to medicine. Preferring well-watered and slightly acidic soil in most cases, it has significant cultural and religious connotations, such as the need to remain morally correct.


Giant pandas eat bamboo.

This type of grass appears as a round, hollow, fibrous stem that is green and grows straight. Plants have leaves, but it doesn’t take much energy to grow them until they are almost fully mature. When the leaves appear, they grow from the top of the stem.


There are dozens of varieties of bamboo, with experts claiming that there are over 1,400 different types. Some are less than 30.48 cm. The “giant” types are the largest members of the grass family. Some plants can reach up to 100 feet (30.48 meters). The most common height is around 30 feet (9,114 meters). Root structures vary, so root type is sometimes used to classify different species.

A bamboo forest.

Botanists also classify species by general arrangement of growth. Some types are clusters, meaning they form narrow sections of multiple stems that are difficult to walk through. Others are spreading out or opening up, meaning they are far enough apart to allow movement. They are also known as runners because they send rhizomes underground, producing new plants within a few feet of the matrix. The current variety can be difficult to control and has a bad reputation among gardeners, but a person can prevent it from overgrowing by placing it in pots rather than directly in the soil.

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growth environment

The sheer number of bamboo species means that these plants are found in many different areas of the world, from the tropics to the cold mountainous regions. They generally occur between latitudes 50 degrees N and 50 degrees S. They are common in Asia, but also grow in areas such as South Africa, India, the mid-Atlantic United States, and Chile. One area that has no native species is Europe.

Bamboo does best when it has plenty of water but is not saturated, such as in an area around a lake. It tolerates different soils, but the type of soil the plant grows in determines how often it should be watered. A slightly acidic soil between 5.5 and 6.5 works for most species, although some species that are more drought resistant do a little better in soils with a higher pH. Depending on the variety and desired landscaping effect, people typically farm between 1.5 and 5 feet (0.4572 and 1.524 meters) apart.


Bamboos bloom, but rarely bloom. They present a mechanism that still baffles scientists, in which all bamboos from the same stock flower at the same time. This happens regardless of where the plants are in the world or what climate they are in, which suggests that the trigger for mass flowering is internal rather than part of the environment. The flowering interval can last over 100 years.


This material is commonly used as a food source. It has a crunchy texture and light, sweet taste. It usually takes on the flavor of the ingredients it is combined with, so cooks often use the sprouts as a filling in Asian cooking. While some types can be eaten raw, other varieties must be cooked to remove some toxic elements. Some animals that eat it include pandas, lemurs and chimpanzees.

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This plant is also used as a building material. It is an extremely hard substance, although it must be chemically treated to prevent insect infestation and rot. A fast-growing grass — sometimes growing as much as 3 to 4 feet (0.9114 to 1.2192 meters) a day — can grow in dense conditions, so it’s considered one of the best renewable resources on the planet. It was used to create the first suspension bridges in China and is today used in a variety of construction projects. It has also been used to manufacture boats, zeppelins and planes.

Bamboo is also a material in a variety of household items. Consumers can find furniture, tableware, sporting goods, jewelry and bags made of them. It also composes floors, cutting boards, wind chimes and almost any other good that is normally made of wood.

Some musical instruments are made from or use this material, as well. Perhaps the best example is the reeds of the double reed family, which includes the oboe, English horn, bassoon and related instruments. People make sounds on these instruments by blowing through a mouthpiece formed of two hard, shaped pieces of cane, which vibrate as the performers play.

Some types have found their way into martial arts. Hardened stems serve as weapons for fighters. The stems can be used to block blows or to deliver them. Writing paper and medicine are two other uses.

Cultural Meanings

In many Asian cultures, bamboo is associated with multiple positive qualities. It reminds people to open their hearts, as the shoots are hollow and receptive. It also shows that being rigid in body or behavior can cause a person to break; it is more important to be strong on the inside, standing tall in what a person says and does. It is often called one of the four “gentlemen” for this reason, with orchid, chrysanthemum and plum blossom being the other three.

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More broadly, the plants have the spiritual connotation of protection. They are supposed to keep evil away. People often position them around religious buildings or other sacred places as a result.

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