The word “Bamboo” is derived from the Malay word “mambu”. In the late 16th century, the Dutch and coined their own term, “bamboes”, from this word. Since then, it has evolved into what we call it today. The bamboo plant has an even longer history than it’s name. In the wild, a single bamboo plant can live for over 120 years. Bamboo is a truly amazing plant, as you’ll see below.
What is Bamboo?
Bamboo can grow taller than a lot of trees, but it’s actually a type of grass. More specifically, it’s a flowering perennial evergreen. Bamboo is the largest type of grass in the world, and the only type of grass that can diversify into forest. As a grass, it’s no surprise that bamboo is usually a secondary vegetation type in forests. It has been found, however, to be the dominant vegetation in some cases. In northeast India and the mountainsides of eastern Africa, however, it covers most of the forest area.
Bamboo is a flowering plant, but the bamboo’s flowers are rarely seen. In some species, the flowers only develop after 65 up to 120 years. Even more astounding is the fact that all the members of a species of bamboo, no matter where in the world the individual bamboo plants are, will develop flowers all at the same time.
How Does Bamboo Grow?
There are 1575 identified species of bamboo in 111 different genera. Each species of bamboo has its own unique growth rates and characteristics. The biggest known variety of bamboo, the species Dendrocalamus sinicus, can grow to up to 40 metres (130 feet) tall with diametre of 30 centimetres. Many other bamboo species can grow to a diametre of 20 centimetres. But not all bamboo plants are so large or so tall. Some bamboo plants are herbaceous, short and don’t have woody stems above the ground. Others are very woody in addition to being tall.
Most woody plants that we know of take many years to grow and mature. Bamboo, however, takes only 3 to 5 years to be fully matured. Bamboo is therefore known as the fastest growing plant in the world. Certain species like the Chinese Moso bamboo can grow up to 1 metre (3 feet) in just one day if the climate and soil conditions are just right. Guinness World Records has logged one type of bamboo species that grows up to 91 centimetres (35 inches) per day, or almost 4 centimetres (1.5 inches) per hour. This is a speed of 0.00003 km/h (0.00002 mph), unprecedented in plant growth. The fastest growing bamboos in the world cannot maintain this speed of growth for long, however.
They go through growth spurts during shooting season, much like our offspring do in their teen years.
Bamboo plants do not increase in diameter like trees do as they age. They also don’t grow any taller than the height that they have reached after 1 year. Yet, a full-grown bamboo is not yet considered a mature plant. As it matures, it grows side branches and branchlets until maturity. The woody bamboo stems that we can see in tall species are called culms. These culms come up from the ground already fully developed. In the smaller bamboos mentioned above, these woody culms remain beneath the soil. The culms of young bamboo plants are protected by leaf-like wraps. These can be seen easily in tall bamboo plants.
Bamboo is native to the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Australia, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. Bamboo can also grow, however, in a variety of climates and at different altitudes. It grows best, however, in the tropics. Bamboo plants can actually grow quite well in a wide range of areas, from sea level to 4,000 metres (13,120 feet). The bamboo plant has been known to even survive in extreme conditions where most plants can’t. Examples are in the Andes and Himalayan mountains at very high altitudes and temperatures far below -20°C. Bamboo can also survive extreme heat, much hotter than other plants can tolerate. The most famous example of such conditions is the bamboo grove that survived the radiation and incinerating heat blast of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. No other plant life remained.