Bamboos are large evergreen perennial grasses that inhabit the tropical and temperate forests around the world. Bamboo is a member of the family Poaceae (grasses) and specifically the subfamily Bambusoideae. The subfamily can be further subdivided into three tribes: bambuseae (tropical woody bamboos), Olyreae (herbaceous bamboos), and Arundinarieae (temperate woody bamboos). The three tribes contain 115 genera that are broken down into 1400 species.
The two tribes of woody bamboo make up about 93% of the species diversity and are most important to forest ecology and human economics. Bamboo can thrive from sea level to 4000 meters and is found in Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Australia. It is a prolific grower and can reach heights of 120 feet (40 meters) and cover many hectares. Some plants require 7 to 120 years to flower, lending to mass flowering episodes. Bamboo has also been declared the fastest growing plant on earth, growing up to 3 feet (91 centimeters per day) or at a rate of 0.00003 kilometers per hour.
Bamboo is rhizomatous meaning that it possesses rhizomes or modified subterranean stems that send out roots and shoots from nodes. Plants grow in two separate patterns depending on the species: clumping and running. The clumping varieties gradually spread and the running varieties prolifically spread (several meters per year) and sometimes require human control.
Not only is bamboo’s horizontal growth interesting, the vertical growth is equally as intriguing. Bamboo culms emerge from the soil at their full diameter and grow to their full height in a single growing season, which is typically about four months. There is no branching from the stem until the majority of the mature height is reached and branching occurs from the nodes. Over the next several years the culms harden and are either overtaken with fungi and collapse or are harvested. The cycle begins anew each growing season and as the plant matures, the culms reach greater and greater heights.
Most bamboos require warmer climates and cannot survive at USDA hardiness zones below 5. Even at zone 5, the foliage and culms will die off each winter. However in USDA zone 7 and higher, bamboo will retain its evergreen foliage. This ability to survive harsh climates, thrive in poor soil conditions, and grow quickly, have allowed bamboo to thrive in areas that it is not native such as Europe and northern and western United States. Although bamboo is popular for landscaping, it can be highly invasive and outcompete native vegetation, leading to vast monocultures and decreased biodiversity.
Bamboo shoots, stems, and leaves provide nutrition to China’s Giant Panda, Nepal’s Red Panda, Madagascar’s Lemurs, Central Africa’s Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and Elephants, as well as rodents around the world.
In addition to sustaining many charismatic species, bamboo also is important to humans as a raw material. Bamboo harvest is a multi billion dollar per year industry in South East Asia and is even on the rise in the United States. Bamboo harvest is found to be more sustainable than traditional timber harvest due to the quick growth rate (harvested every 5 to 7 years) and ability to store 100 to 400 tons of carbon per hectare. Although there are many positives to bamboo, it is important to remember that with any ecosystem, monocultures are generally not the recipe for a healthy environment. Though bamboo farming is a viable option, as with most things, moderation is key.
One of the most utilized forms of bamboo is from the genus phyllostachys (timber bamboo), which is native to central/southern China and northern Indochina. Planted bamboo has thrived in other parts of Asia, Australia, North/South America, and Europe. In some areas bamboo has become so invasive and detrimental to native ecosystems that the sale of this species for landscaping is illegal and homeowners can be fined if it is growing within 40 feet of adjacent properties. It belongs to Arundinarieae or the temperate woody bamboo tribe and has a running growth style. The culms are utilized in construction and furniture products.
Another genus that is typically utilized economically is Bambusa, which is a clumping variety of bambuseae or the tropical woody bamboo tribe. This genus is native to China, India, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Melanesia, and the Northern Territory of Australia. It has also taken over large swaths of land in Africa and Central/South America. This bamboo genus is utilized for nearly any purpose including: landscape hedge, erosion control, flooring, boats, pipes, food, and even parrot toys.
At parrotJOY we utilize Bambusa arundinacea or thorny bamboo, which is actually quite smooth and safe for parrots. It grows wild in most parts of tropical India, Pakistan, and southwestern China. We love to use this unique toy component because it adds another layer of color, texture and fun to your parrot’s toy repertoire. Look for our 2-3 inch bamboo stalks in the new BAMBOOzler toy!
Hort.purdue.edu. 2020. Bambusa Arundinacea. [online] Available at: <https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Bambusa_arundinacea.html> [Accessed 20 November 2020].
INBAR. 2020. Understanding Bamboo’S Climate Change Potential- INBAR. [online] Available at: <https://www.inbar.int/understanding-bamboos-climate-change-potential/> [Accessed 20 November 2020].
Kelchner, S., 2013. Higher level phylogenetic relationships within the bamboos (Poaceae: Bambusoideae) based on five plastid markers. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 67(2), pp.404-413.