The world of bamboo is vast and fascinating. With so many varieties, so many uses, and so much to know about this remarkable plant, we never seem to run out of questions, as well as myths and misconceptions.

So let’s cut to the chase and answer 12 of the most common questions about bamboo that we hear all the time from our readers and customers.

1. Why is bamboo called a grass?

Botanists classify bamboo as a grass because of its perennial, flowering, monocotyledonous growth habit. Like all grasses, bamboo has stems (called culms) that are mostly hollow except at the nodes. It grows with leaves that form a sheath around the stem, these are called culm sheets. A bamboo culm reaches its full height in a single season, unlike trees which grow taller each year.

The grass family, Poaceae, includes about 12,000 species, with approximately 1,500 species of bamboo belonging to around 100 different genera. Many of the grasses we are most familiar with are annuals, such as rice, corn, wheat and other grains, which flower, go to seed, and die in a single year. But all varieties of bamboo are perennial, meaning that they live on year after year, more like a tree. Many other ornamental grasses are also perennial, such as fescue and pampas grass.

2. Which bamboo is non-invasive and easy to contain?

Most bamboos propagate themselves with underground roots called rhizomes. We call these types of bamboo “runners” because of how the rhizomes spread quickly and aggressively. Other varieties of bamboo have a more compact growth habit and we call them “clumpers”. All species of the Bambusa genus are clumpers, including the very popular Oldhamii. Alphonse Karr is another popular clumper.

For more suggestions, check out these articles on the 10 Best bamboos for your garden and The best clumping bamboos. We also have an article on How to contain and control your bamboo, because even the clumping varieties will spread over time.

3. Which bamboo grows the fastest and tallest?

Bamboo is famous, in some cases infamous, for how fast it grows. Some varieties can grow up to two feet a day, but that’s under optimal conditions (usually in the tropics) and only during the growing season. The genus Phyllostachys includes some of the most vigorous species of running bamboo. Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis) is very important in China, and it famously grows up three feet and day to reach 100 feet in height.

bamboo forest
A forest of fast-growing Moso bamboo.

Phyllostachys aurea, or Golden Bamboo, is one of the fastest-spreading varieties of bamboo. It only grows about 10 to 20 feet tall, but its roots are notoriously vigorous. So be careful with this one. Dwarf bamboos, which might only grow a few feet tall, can also spread very rapaciously. Consider the genus Sasa or the genus Sasaella.

The tallest and thickest varieties of bamboo are generally referred to as timber bamboo; some are runners and some clumpers. Phyllostachys vivax and Bambusa oldhamii are among the most popular timber bamboo. Dendrocalamus sinicus, a tropical clumping variety, is the tallest bamboo of all, reaching heights well over 100 feet tall.

Keep in mind, bamboo does not grow like a tree. Because it’s a grass, bamboo achieves all its height in a single growth spurt. In the subsequent years, individual bamboo poles won’t grow any taller, but they will continue to produce new leaves and branches.

4. What species of bamboo is Lucky Bamboo?

Sorry to burst your bamboo-loving bubble, but Lucky Bamboo is not actually a bamboo at all. Rather, it is a species of the temperate houseplant, Dracaena. But don’t fret, almost all varieties of bamboo are lucky by their very nature!

You can read our article on Dracaena sanderiana for more details.

5. Will bamboo grow in Canada and cold climates?

Good news! Even if you live in Canada, Minnesota or the heights of the Rocky Mountains, you can find an assortment of cold hardy bamboo species that will thrive in your area. The most cold-hardy varieties belong to the genus Phyllostachys (running bamboos) or the genus Fargesia (clumping bamboos).

Bamboo in New England snow

Definitely take a look at our article on the Best cold hardy bamboos. You can check your local nursery, or you may want to order specific varieties of bamboo online.

6. Will bamboo grow indoors?

Generally, bamboo does NOT grow well indoors. Being a grass, bamboo requires a lot of fresh air and sunlight. Some bamboos prefer shady places in the garden, but not inside the house. You can keep bamboo in a sunny window for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but it will not thrive. Whiteflies, spider mites and other pests can become a problem. If it has to be indoors, better to stick with Lucky Bamboo. (See above.)

7. Why is bamboo eco-friendly?

Bamboo’s incredible rate of growth and self-propagation makes it an incredibly renewable and sustainable resource. And its versatility makes it an ideal substitute for timber, cotton, even steel. Unlike most crops, bamboo grows naturally in dense “mono-crop” settings without the need for pesticides and fertilizers. Furthermore, an area of bamboo can produce 35 percent more oxygen than the same area of trees, making it an excellent remedy for carbon pollution.

8. Can you eat bamboo?

Absolutely. Asians have been enjoying the nutritional benefits of fresh bamboo shoots for thousands of years. Not every species of bamboo has tasty shoots, but a few of the more popular edible varieties are Bambusa oldhamii, Phyllostachys edulis, and Phyllostachys bambusoides.

To learn more about the history and nutrition of eating bamboo, you can read our article on Edible bamboo shoots.

9. What kind of bamboo do pandas eat?

There are roughly 40 different species of bamboo that make up the diet of the giant panda bear. None of these includes Moso bamboo, which is the Chinese variety used most widely for commercial purposes, including bamboo clothing and bamboo flooring.

10. When does bamboo flower?

Different species of bamboo have different flowering schedules, which can vary dramatically. Many varieties only flower once every hundred years or so. Interestingly, in many cases, almost every specimen of given species, anywhere in the world, will flower at the same time when the blooming cycle comes around. In some cases, the bamboo will die after flowering. Because bamboo typically propagates itself by spreading its roots, the flowering is not so important for survival the way it is with other plants.

Take a look at our article on Bamboo flowering to learn more about this fascinating process.

11. Can you grow bamboo from seeds?

Bamboo can be grown from seed, although it’s not the standard practice. It’s much easier to propagate bamboo by taking root cuttings and dividing established clumps. To grow bamboo from seed is more of a novelty for real bamboo and botany enthusiasts. Growing from seed can result in a slightly different strain, rather than the identical copy you get from a cutting.

Bamboo seeds in hand
Giant grass comes from tiny seeds.

12. What’s so great about bamboo clothing?

Bamboo has gained increased attention in recent years with the advent of bamboo clothing and textiles. The benefits of bamboo clothing are almost too numerous to list. To begin with, bamboo’s tenacious growth habit makes it incredibly renewable and sustainable. As mentioned above, bamboo grows quickly, requires no pesticides and herbicides, and needs no replanting after harvesting. This is in sharp contrast to conventional cotton which is extremely pesticide-intensive.

In addition to the ecological advantages of bamboo, anyone can easily feel the difference when they handle a luxuriously soft bamboo t-shirt or bamboo bath towel. Not only is bamboo fabric soft, but it has antimicrobial properties that make it hypoallergenic and resistant to odors. You will also discover the temperature regulating qualities when you wear a bamboo shirt or sleep on a set of bamboo sheets — warm in the winter, cool in the summer!

Take a look at our detailed article on Bamboo Clothing to learn more.

Further reading

To learn a great deal more about bamboo, check out these inquisitive articles:

Photo Credit: David Clode (Unsplash)

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