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Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala nonattachment

The Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas first arrived in San Luis Obispo more than a dozen years ago. Since then they have become something of an institution on the Central Coast. No one who observes the creation of these exquisite works of art can fail to appreciate the concentration and devotion that go into them.

The unique process, the unusual materials, the striking composition and the surprise ending make the Buddhist sand mandalas fascinating in every way. And the more you know about the monks, their religion and their mandalas, the more you can appreciate the significance of it all.

What is a Buddhist Sand Mandala?

As part of an ancient tradition, Buddhist monks from Tibet and Northern India (where many Tibetans remain living in exile) travel the globe producing these mandalas for all the world to see. The monks create these designs as a way to raise awareness about their culture, but also as part of a pious meditation.

Using sand of different colors, several disciples spend the better part of a week putting the picture together, roughly one grain of sand at a time. By the end of the week, they have created a spectacular image of an archetypal symbol. Buddhists, Jungians and dreamers of every stripe recognize the mandala, usually a circle inscribed inside of a square inside of a larger circle.

Once the multicolored masterpiece is complete, the monks conduct a quiet, reverent ceremony, with a bit of chanting and mindful reflection. At last, the creators of this ephemeral artwork carry the mandala away and peacefully dump the colored sand into a nearby creek. Meanwhile, onlookers gasp with disbelief and unease as the product of profound punctiliousness is washed away.

What is the meaning of the Mandala?

The symbolism of the mandala is deep and mysterious. An icon of sacred of geometry, the interlocking circles and squares serve as a kind of window into the universe. And others will interpret the cryptic image as a portal into the human soul.

Typically, Buddhist practitioners can use a mandala as a kind of talisman or focal point for their meditation. Gazing into the central circle can help to quiet the mind and bring the disciple in tune with the unblemished Self.

The ornate, abstract imagery gives the eye a place to focus. And spiraling into the middle circle, the practitioner can grow more self-aware on one hand, but also conscious of his/her position at the center of something infinite.

States of Consciousness

Another reading, which I’m very sympathetic to, describes the small circle as the earliest stage of consciousness. This is the condition of bliss before the infant mind has learned to distinguish between subject and object. The child is connected to all things in a state of “unconscious perfection.”

As a person ages, they learn to distinguish between pairs of opposites, something like Adam and Eve after the Fall. Older and more mature, the individual begins to divide the world of experience into different categories, good or bad, right or wrong, and so on. They see things as separate and distinct. The four-sided square represents this state of rational awareness, or “conscious imperfection.”

This state of mind persists through most of adulthood. But with extensive spiritual development, one can expand their consciousness into the larger circle. This expanded circle represents the undifferentiated whole, the field in which all things are connected. The devotee has arrived in the realm of “conscious perfection.”

This version of the mandala resonates for me because it feels consistent with so many other examples from world religions. Consider the parallel, for example, between circle-square-circle and birth-death-rebirth. It is a story as ancient as that of the complacent orphan who is lost, then called on an adventure, and finally returns as a hero.

The levels of metaphor run deep. And throughout the picture of the mandala, the imagery of steps and concentric circles would seem to reinforce that metaphor. And if this isn’t a concept worthy of profound meditation, then I don’t know what is.

Why do they create with sand?

You can find mandalas in many forms, in murals, jewelry and coloring books. But there is clearly something special about a mandala, usually 10 or 12 feet in diameter, that is made entirely of colored sand.

Few things in our world of sight and touch are smaller than a grain of sand. By itself, the grain of sand is infinitesimally insignificant. This makes the process of creation incredibly slow and fastidious. It forces the artist to slow down.

Just as Alcoholics Anonymous invites its members to take life “One step at a time”, the sand mandala requires one to proceed one grain at a time. At this pace, the monk can feel the whole world slowing down. And in doing so, his awareness gradually elevates, to a heightened state of consciousness.

In this state of mind, the concentrating monk might consider the many paradoxes of the human condition. S/he might think about the simultaneous greatness and smallness of all things. Like the Yin-Ying that reveals the coexistence of darkness and light, the sand mandala reveals a special balance of the microscopic and the macroscopic.

A Higher Order

Another metaphor at work here reminds us of just how small we are within the universe. And though this can make us feel terribly trivial and insignificant, we can also see our importance in the big picture. What is the universe after all, but a careful arrangement of tiny, innumerable units?

On their own, each grain of sand seems worthless and unimportant. But they make up everything. And the end result is a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not just a heap of insignificant grains; it’s a beautiful, mesmerizing mandala.

We can find a similar analogy in the ordinary ant colony. Individually, each ant is almost nothing. They would never accomplish anything. But in numbers, the colony takes on a higher intelligence of its own. Through an organization that no single ant could ever comprehend, the colony can literally move mountains.

Why do they destroy the Sand Mandala?

At the end of the week comes what some may consider the highlight of the process. Others might find it painfully anti-climactic. In a bold move, the monks pick up their masterpiece and pour it down the river.

How could they destroy their artwork following so many painstaking days of meticulous construction? After those long hours of putting the mandala together, one grain at a time, they just let the whole thing go.

I can imagine no more perfect embodiment of the Buddhist tenet of non-attachment. The ability to let go of attachments to ideas and objects is central to Buddhist philosophy. The creation of the mandala is all about the process, not the end result. Or as the Taoist proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”

Impermanence

When we take the long view, we see that all things are impermanent. Everything comes and goes, and nothing lasts forever. It is in our nature to resist this law of existence, but resistance is futile. Dumping the naturally-colored sand into the river reminds us that, eventually, all things must return to their source.

Attachment, the Buddhists insist, only leads to suffering. The only thing we can truly count on is the present moment. In other words: be here now.

Further reading

For more engaging stories about Eastern culture and philosophy, check out some of these popular articles.

Mandala: Roadmap of the Mind The Ten Thousand Things of Taoism Bamboo Symbolism and Mythology Buddhist Thangka Paintings: Meaningful and Sublime
Moso Bamboo the king of grasses

Moso Bamboo, also known as Phyllostachys edulis, is nothing new, but in recent years it has sparked a revolution in agriculture, textiles and construction.

Of the roughly 1,500 varieties of bamboo that populate the earth, it’s easy to argue that Moso Bamboo is the most important one of all. When you hear about bamboo clothing and bamboo flooring, these are products of Moso. When you see bamboo scaffolding on skyscrapers in Hong Kong and China, it’s very likely Moso. And when people speak of bamboo growing a foot or two a day, Moso is one the varieties that can actually do that.

Cultivating Moso Bamboo

Native to Southern China and Taiwan, Phyllostachys edulis thrives in the warmer, subtropical climates. In these regions the plant can reach its full potential, with towering culms of 90 feet or more, and growing a couple feet a day in the growing season. But like most Phyllostachys, it can also tolerate more temperate zones. Just don’t expect it to grow to such an impressive size.

Members of the genus Phyllostachys are running bamboos, meaning that they spread and propagate by way of sprawling rhizome roots. From this complex underground root system, new culms shoot out of the ground in the growing season and quickly grow to their full height. A mature grove of Moso Bamboo will put out shoots with a 4-5 inch diameter.

Check out our in-depth article on Running Bamboo to learn more.

Once every 50 years or so, a Moso Bamboo plant will flower and produce seeds. In some varieties of bamboo, every member of a given species will flower at the same anywhere in the world. This phenomenon, known as synchronous blooming or gregarious blooming, does NOT occur with Moso. Instead, it exhibits sporadic flowering.

In many varieties of bamboo, the plant will die after it flowers and goes to seed. This is called monocarpic. This is NOT the case with Moso. A healthy stand of Moso can produce thousands of seeds and most of them will germinate, while the mother plant survives. Rats and rodents, however, will generally eat a significant portion of these tender seedlings, which tend to be only 2 mm in diameter.

Can I cultivate and farm Moso Bamboo in the U.S.?

The preponderance of commercial Moso farming takes place in China, where the species is indigenous. It’s much happier in that subtropical climate. Within the U.S., the deep South probably has the best growing conditions for Moso Bamboo.

It also does particularly well in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. A company called Only Moso launched a commercial bamboo farm in Gainesville. Florida, in 2011. Some farmers grow Moso in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, where it does reasonably well. But without the extra hot summers, it does not reach its maximum height and girth.

The Many Uses of Moso

The magnificent size and vigorous growth habit of Moso Bamboo makes it the perfect candidate for a wide range of practical and industrial applications. Moso from China has become especially important for the production of bamboo flooring and bamboo clothing.

Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo flooring took the building industry by storm about 20 years ago, quickly becoming available from hardware stores and flooring specialists everywhere. Unlike traditional hardwoods, bamboo reaches maturity within 4-5 years, while the trees could take 20-100 years to mature. Bamboo, with its high metabolism, can also sequester about 50% more carbon than a typical forest.

In addition to the ecological benefits of bamboo, Moso also produces a very hard wood, making it an ideal material for things like flooring and cutting boards. According to the Contractor’s Guide for Green Building Materials, standard bamboo flooring has a Janka hardness rating of 1180 to 1380. This is comparable to most oak varieties, rated around 1300 to 1400. More innovative types of bamboo flooring, using a woven strand technique, have scored from 3000 all the way up to 5000.

As much as we like to advocate the use of bamboo as the environmental silver bullet, it is important to be aware of certain ecological concerns. As a laminated wood, bamboo flooring does require a urea-formaldehyde (UF) adhesive to bond together. These adhesives can off-gas and pose other environmental problems. Still, bamboo uses far less formaldehyde than other materials like particle board. And formaldehyde-free bamboo is also available now.

Another issue, when bamboo flooring exploded in popularity, was the removal of native forests in China for the purpose of cultivating commercial bamboo. This sort of deforestation has led to the destruction of natural wildlife habitat and soil erosion, and could easily outweigh any environmental benefits of bamboo. It’s important, therefore, to learn as much you as you can about your bamboo supplier, and see that they meet all the highest standards of certification.

Bamboo Clothing

Remarkably hard on the one hand, bamboo can also produce a rayon fabric that is incredibly soft on the other. Shortly after the appearance of bamboo flooring, we began seeing socks, t-shirts and towels made from bamboo.

Along with the well-reported ecological benefits of bamboo—fast-growing and readily renewable without the need for pesticides and herbicides—bamboo fabric also boasts a number of advantages in performance. Most obvious is bamboo’s softness. Like cotton or any other conventional textile, bamboo can be woven into any kind of fabric. But the result is always uniquely soft, with an uncommon mix of cool silkiness and warm fuzziness.

Additionally, bamboo material is naturally anti-microbial, hypo-allergenic, odor-resistant and temperature regulating. It may sound too good to be true, but the properties of bamboo are plainly evident if you sleep on a set of bamboo sheets or wear a pair of bamboo socks two days in a row. We’ve also heard from many customers with sensitive skin disorders and serious allergy issues that bamboo is one of the only materials they can wear.

Bamboo’s very high absorbency also makes for some exceptionally nice towels. But be advised, bamboo socks and t-shirts will take a bit longer to dry for this same reason. Generally this is not a problem. If you’re keeping your carbon footprint down and using a drying rack instead of an electric dryer, just leave the clothes on the rack a little longer. If you’re traveling however, and trying to dry your clothes on a line in your hotel room overnight, bamboo might not be your best choice.

Some have expressed concern over the pulping process that goes into make viscose fabric from bamboo. In fact, caustic soda (or lye) is used to extrude the cellulose from the stalks and leaves of the bamboo before it can be spun into thread and woven into fabric.

The primary concern here is how the manufacturer disposes of this bi-product after pulping. It is possible to reuse and recycle the lye, and certain manufacturers are bound to be more conscientious than others. We have always been committed to working with the most ecologically responsible producers as possible.

Most of us who work in the bamboo industry are determined to see it being used in the most ecological way possible. It’s good to know that many have been improving the standards of cultivating and processing bamboo over the years.

Cotton, by comparison, is extremely pesticide intensive to grow, as it is very vulnerable to insects and other pests. It also requires a great amount of irrigation, because it is typically cultivated in hot, dry climates. And even organic cotton must go through a processing stage before it’s spun and woven into fabric.

Phyllostachys edulis is edible

Finally, we need to talk out how Phyllostachys edulis got its name. Long before the advent of bamboo floors and bamboo underwear, Chinese foodies were making use of Moso Bamboo’s tender young shoots.

So Moso earned its botanical name from this characteristic. Actually, many varieties of bamboo have fresh culms that are edible. This species just happens to be one of the most majestic, widespread and recognizable in China. Not only that, but given the plant’s size, you can practically make a whole meal out of one shoot!

Take a look at our article on Edible Bamboo Shoots to learn more.

Guadua Bamboo

If you’re looking for other varieties of bamboo that are especially useful and fast growing, Guadua angustifolia is one to watch out for. Native to Central and South America, Guadua is a clumping genus of mostly timber bamboos. They make an excellent building material, and have been used widely throughout the continent to create some very impressive structures.

For more details, have a look at our in-depth article on The best bamboos for building and construction.

Further Reading

To learn more about the ecology and versatility of Moso and other species of bamboo, check out some of our other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? 10 Best varieties of Bamboo for your garden Buddha Belly: Bamboo of the highest calling Hemp vs. Bamboo: The ultimate comparison

PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia

Running bamboo of genus Phyllostachys

Bamboo has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the fastest growing plants on earth. Indeed, some tropical varieties can grow more than a meter day in the growing season. Pull up a cozy chair and you can actually watch it grow.

Running bamboo has earned a particularly nasty reputation for its growth habits. That’s because those rhizome roots spread like crazy. Although in this case, you can’t actually watch them grow. But it’s led many gardeners to wonder whether planting bamboo might not be a good idea at all.

DISCLOSURE: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you click through those links and make a purchase. This helps us meet the cost of maintaining our website and producing great articles.

What is a running bamboo?

Among the 90 genera and roughly 1,500 species of bamboo, we like to divide them into two simple categories. Basically, we have runners and clumpers. The most widespread genera of runners are the Phyllostachys and Pleioblastus. Runners generally perform better in temperate climates.

The distinctive characteristic of running bamboo is the vigorous rhizome root system. The monopodial rhizomes tend to grow horizontally, spreading outward and overtaking an area. Sometimes, but not always, these monopodial bamboos can spread very aggressively. They can definitely be invasive. They can tear up your lawn, crawl under fences, and become very difficult to remove.

Clumping bamboos, by contrast, are happier in the tropical and subtropical climes. Bambusa is the primary genus of clumping bamboo. Like all bamboo, clumpers also have rhizome roots, but they are what’s called sympodial. These sympodial rhizomes mostly grow close together, branching out often, to create a tight cluster of culms. It’s unlikely for a clumping bamboo to become invasive.

Why would you want to plant running bamboo?

With so much potential to be invasive and disruptive, why would anyone want to plant a running bamboo? That’s a very good question. But as it turns out, there are a few good reasons to plant a runner instead of a clumper.

Definitely check out our article on the 10 Best Bamboos for your Garden.

Climate

When selecting anything to plant in your garden, one of the chief factors will always be the climate. And when you think of bamboo, you probably think of places like Hawaii, Southeast Asia and Central America. In other words, the tropics. Indeed, bamboo thrives in these regions, especially the clumping varieties of bamboo.

But most of us don’t live in the tropics. And for those of us who do, there’s usually already plenty of bamboo around. But for the rest of us, we need something more adaptable. No problem. There are many varieties of bamboo indigenous to the more temperate zones of Asia, including China, Korea and Japan. And as it happens, these temperate bamboos usually belong in the running category.

The largest genus of these more temperate Chinese bamboos is Phyllostachys. They do very well in a range of climates, and they are definitely runners. Nurseries throughout most U.S. states and Europe can sell Phyllostachys and other temperate runners and feel good knowing they will probably thrive.

So planting a running bamboo actually makes a lot of sense if you live in a more temperate zone. But these runners aren’t the only varieties that can grow in a cool climate. If you’re living outside the tropics and trying to avoid planting a runner, keep an eye out for varieties of Bambusa like Oldhammi, and most any bamboo from the genus Fargesia.

You might also have a look at our article on Cold Hardy Bamboos.

NOTE: Phyllostachys is also one of the easier bamboo varieties to identify. Look for the distinctive grooves that grow along the length of the internodes, alternating from one side to the other.

Fast Growing

As we have seen, bamboo’s vigorous growth habit can be a double-edged sword. But many growers are looking for something that will really display its vegetative might. Some gardeners just have a lot of respect for the great vitality and tenacity of bamboo and want to see it grow in full force. But usually they have more practical intentions, like trying to fill a large area quickly. 

Bamboo makes for an excellent privacy screen, and many people are in a hurry to establish their privacy. If you want a tall hedge to grow along your fence line, bamboo is an attractive option. And if you want it to cover the property line and fill in quickly, an aggressive runner can be even more appealing. 

Phyllostachys nigra, a popular species of running bamboo. Note the characteristic grooves on the internodes. Aesthetic Features

In many cases, gardeners will plant bamboo for specific aesthetic features. Whether to beautify the garden or to harvest the attractive poles, striped bamboo and black bamboo are very desirable. Phyllostachys nigra, better known simply as black bamboo, is one of the most popular species of all, due to its rich, dark color. The dried poles are especially attractive for crafts and light construction.

Certain other varieties of running bamboo also have very attractive features, like long and elegant poles. And for those who enjoy combining a medley of different bamboo species, they will have a hard time completing their landscape without at least one or two runners in the mix.

How can I maintain a running bamboo?

So you’ve decided to plant some running bamboo in your yard. Must you concede defeat and consign yourself to be overrun with woody grasses? Absolutely not! It’s not as easy as plucking daisies, but there are ways to contain running bamboos and keep them in check.

Containers

There are numerous types of containers you can use to prevent a running bamboo from taking over your garden. Planting bamboo in a pot is certainly one option, but be aware that a running bamboo will get root bound very quickly, even in a good sized pot.

I like to use half wine barrels (or whiskey barrels, depending what part of the country you’re in.) They have a more natural look in the garden, compared to your big black plastic pots from the nursery. And they’re spacious. Even so, I find myself un-potting the bamboo almost every year to split the rootball into three or four pieces. (Another advantage of running bamboo is that it’s pretty easy to propagate.)

Keep in mind, if you place your pot directly on top of soil, the roots will quickly find their way through the drain hole and into the earth. Be sure to place a stepping stone or something under the pot, or set it on a patio. Also avoid ceramic pots, as they are liable to burst from the expanding roots. And never use a pot that gets narrower at the top; you’ll never get your bamboo out without breaking it.

Root barriers

Your best bet is probably a high grade root barrier. You can order heavy duty plastic barrier and bury it around the perimeter of your bamboo area. This can be a very reliable system, but it’s not fool proof. Be sure to get the barrier at least two feet underground (unless you’re planting a dwarf variety).

Our best recommendation is the DeepRoot Bamboo Barrier, 30″ deep by 100 ft roll., which is available at Amazon.

And keep an eye on it. When they feel the urge to spread out, those monopodial rhizomes can be relentless. If there’s even the tiniest gap in your root barrier, they’ll burrow into it. And if there’s a thick layer of mulch concealing the top of the root barrier, the roots might easily crawl over it.

A lot of times, people move into a house and inherit someone else’s poorly planned bamboo garden. This could require some serious work to remove masses of roots. You can do some very heavy root pruning in this case, and then try to install a root barrier. But sometimes you just have to go Rambo: Dig a trench and fill it with concrete.

Root pruning

One of the most important things you can do to keep a running bamboo under control is simply monitor it closely. Dig around the base of the plant a couple times a year and see what’s happening. You can’t always tell just by watching what the bamboo is doing above ground.

When you find bamboo rhizomes racing away from the main grove, cut them back. If you’re dealing with a mature and well established bamboo plant, this could be a serious chore. Make sure you have the right tools, including a good spade, some sharp clippers, and a compact hand saw.

You might even need a Sawsall or other reciprocating saw, to really get in there. We recommend Makita’s Cordless Recipro Saw Kit, sold complete with saw blades and an extra battery, and available for quick delivery from Amazon.

Further Reading

To learn more about the wonders of bamboo in your garden and around the world, be sure to take a look at some of these other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? How to Grow Bamboo: The Ultimate Guide 20 Best Bamboo Gardens in the World Bamboo Symbols in Mythology and Folklore

PHOTO CREDIT: Purely Pacha

New hemp laws in the United States

After nearly a century prohibition, new hemp laws are finally sweeping across the nation. In 1937, the federal government passed the Marihuana Tax Act, effectively banning the cultivation and use of both industrial hemp and marijuana.

Highly regulated hemp farming continued on a small scale through World War II, but after the 1950s, American hemp farming disappeared completely. The last hemp cultivation had taken place in the state of Wisconsin.

The first signs of hope came when President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill. This piece of legislation acknowledged the potential of industrial hemp as a commercial crop and created a framework for legal cultivation. Following its passage, many states set up pilot programs allowing farmers to grow hemp on a limited, experimental scale.

But things really changed when President Trump signed the Hemp Farming Act in 2018.

What is the Hemp Farming Act?

The federal government passed the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, as part of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. The new legislation finally removed industrial hemp from the Schedule 1 controlled substances. By definition, Schedule 1 drugs—including heroin and cocaine—are dangerous, addictive and without medicinal value.

At last, American farmers can grow hemp, or cannabis with less than 0.3% THC, like any other agricultural crop. After more than 80 years, the feds have finally acknowledged what many of us already knew, that hemp is not a drug at all.

See our in-depth article on the Difference between Hemp and Marijuana.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel introduced the legislation in spring 2018. His home state of Kentucky had already adopted similar rules for hemp, becoming one of the first states to do so.

Since the passage of the Hemp Farming Act, most U.S. states have gone ahead and adopted their own rules concerning the previously controversial crop. A staple of American agriculture is coming back into the fold. And the possibilities for textiles, building materials, biomass and petroleum-free plastics are enormous.

Non-psychoactive hemp is also being recognized for its medicinal benefits. While low in THC, some varieties of hemp produce significant levels of something else called CBD. Although CBD won’t get you high, it is being used widely to treat pain and anxiety and help with sleeping disorders. And with demand for CBD extracts skyrocketing, the interest in hemp cultivation has never been greater.

Where are the best and worst states to grow hemp?

As far as climate and terrain, two of the best states for hemp farming are South Dakota and Nebraska. But unfortunately, lawmakers in those states are moving at a glacial pace to open up this cash crop to their local farmers. Idaho and New Hampshire have also bucked the trend and kept hemp illegal, despite federal law.

Without a doubt, Kentucky leads the nation in hemp farming, research and legislation. Montana and Colorado are also seizing the moment and planting vast acres of hemp on their open plains. Colorado also has some of the most liberal laws on the cultivation and possession of recreational marijuana.

What do the new hemp regulations look like in your state? Hemp in Alabama

In early 2019, Alabama approved 180 applications from farmers wanting to grow hemp in the state. More than 150 of them went ahead and paid the $1000 permit fee to obtain the state license.

Alabama farmers planted their first hemp crop of the century this spring. They are hopeful that the high demand for (non-psychoactive) CBD oil will make hemp a far more profitable crop that anything else that grows in the region. State regulators will test crops for THC levels and eradicate any cannabis plants that do not comply.

Hemp in Alaska

Alaska passed a pilot program for hemp farming in April 2018. Currently, however, farmers need special permission from the state to plant a field of hemp. In fact, under state law, it’s easier for Alaskans to grow recreational marijuana than industrial hemp. But with the tremendous interest in hemp farming, authorities are working quickly to adopt policies for the commercial crop.

Hemp in Arizona

As of June 1, 2019, farmers in Arizona can legally plant a field of hemp. The Arizona Hemp Program is issuing licenses to about 200 state residents who intend to cultivate the closely regulated crop.

A background check is required, and licenses are good for one year. The Arizona Department of Agriculture has complete details and application forms on its website.

Hemp in Arkansas

The Arkansas State Plant Board has given licenses to four large agricultural companies to cultivate industrial hemp in the state. Policy makers are still trying to iron out the details with federal regulators, while farmers are working closely with companies in Kentucky to obtain seeds for high-quality, low-THC (less than 0.3%) hemp. Additional hemp growers are hoping to obtain licenses as well, pending state approval.

Hemp in California

As of April 2019, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is now issuing applications from farmers wanting a state license to cultivate industrial hemp. However, it will be up to local county officials to review and approve the applications. Several counties continue to restrict or prohibit hemp farming, so it’s not yet clear how it will play out.

NOTE: Looking at which California counties maintain restrictions on hemp cultivation, I have my own theories. Some of the those counties include the state’s best-known marijuana producers, Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity to name a few. Industrial hemp cultivation could be very disruptive to producing high-grade marijuana, because one strain of cannabis sativa can easily pollenate the other. So perhaps there is an effort to protect marijuana producers from contamination by hemp pollen.

Hemp in Colorado

The Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Program regulates the cultivation of industrial hemp. Recreational marijuana, cannabis with more than 0.3% THC, is also legal in the state but separately regulated.

Colorado got a head start when they launched a pilot hemp farming program in 2014 and planted about 1,800 acres of hemp. Today there are more than 30,000 acres of hemp agriculture in the state. And following the U.S. Farm Bill, the numbers are rising quickly.

Most of these hemp farmers are hoping to cash in on the rush for CBD oil. Meanwhile, many small farmers are concerned that industrial scale hemp farming will drive them out of business.

Hemp in Connecticut

This spring, the state approved a pilot program to allow Connecticut farmers to begin growing hemp. About 200 farmers in the state have expressed an interest. The state is still clarifying the regulations for the production and sale of hemp products with the federal government. They expect to be growing hemp by this summer.

Hemp in Delaware

Delaware launched a pilot program for hemp farmers in 2018, allowing hemp cultivation for research purposes. Delaware currently classifies hemp like a grain. State officials are seeking approval for the USDA to begin farming hemp commercially.

Hemp in Florida

Florida has a pilot program that allows hemp farming for research through two of the state’s public universities, UF and Florida A&M. New legislation passed in May will go into effect in July and allow commercial hemp farming in the state for the first time. Farmers will have to apply to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for a license to cultivate.

Hemp in Georgia

Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill in May to allow hemp cultivation in Georgia. Kemp had earlier signed a bill allowing for medical marijuana in the state. Hemp farmers will be required to obtain a permit through the state and pay a $50 per acre fee to farm the industrial wonder crop.

Hemp in Hawaii

Hawaii launched a pilot program for hemp farming in the Rainbow State last year. Currently, the only legal way to cultivate hemp in Hawaii is under a license from the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture. Licensed growers can obtain seeds from outside the state, pending approval from the HDOA. The state places no restrictions on the processing, manufacturing and sale of industrial hemp products.

Hemp in Idaho

Hemp is still illegal in Idaho, in spite of federal law. A bill that appeared to enjoy unanimous support promised to revise the law, but then died in session. State lawmakers have expressed an intent to get hemp legalized in time for the 2020 growing season.

Hemp in Illinois

Illinois passed its own Industrial Hemp Act last year, and as of spring 2019, farmers can now obtain a state license for cultivation. Just in time for this year’s planting season.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture charges a $100 application fee for each farm. Upon approval, there is an additional license fee of $1,000 for a three-year license, $700 for a two-year license, or $375 for a one-year license.

Hemp in Indiana

Governor Eric Holcomb  has just signed a new law into effect which makes commercial hemp farming legal in Indiana. The law, which had unanimous support in the legislature, will go into effect in July. Most plans for hemp cultivation are still for research at this point. Farmers will need to obtain a license from the state in order to complywith the law.

Hemp in Iowa

Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill in May to make hemp farming legal in Iowa. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship are continuing to work with the USDA to draft regulations. Farmers hope to be planting hemp in the state next spring.

Hemp in Kansas

This year, the Kansas State Research and Extension began growing industrial hemp as part of an experimental pilot program. Farmers can also apply for a research growing license from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. With more research on the best hemp varieties for Kansas’s growing conditions, new regulations and guidelines will be drafted.

Hemp in Kentucky

Historically the greatest hemp producing state in the country, Kentucky has led the way in revising national hemp policies. According to the State Agriculture Commissioner, the Kentucky has issued more than 1000 permits to farmers cultivating over 42,000 acres of hemp in 2019. This is nearly a threefold increase in acreage since 2018.

Growers must have a license from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) to farm hemp. The KDA carefully screens all applicants and regularly inspects farms and processing facilities. It is illegal to possess live or unprocessed hemp without a license from the KDA.

Hemp in Louisiana

The Louisiana Senate approved legislation in June 2019 to legalize hemp production and create regulations for businesses selling CBD products around the state. Specific regulations will be drafted and submitted to the USDA by November 1. State lawmakers describe Louisiana’s hemp program as one of the strictest in the country.

Hemp in Maine

Maine’s Department of Agriculture is currently reviewing applications to grow industrial hemp for the 2019 growing season. A new law, passed earlier this year, recognizes CBD oil as a food product rather than a medicine. Maine farmers who receive a state license will be allowed to cultivate hemp for CBD oil and industrial uses.

Hemp in Maryland

A pilot program through the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) allows farmers in the state to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. The MDA will screen all applicants carefully and inspect the growing facilities for compliance.

The state will be updating its hemp regulations this year to comply with new federal laws and expand hemp farming activities.

Hemp in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Hemp Program issues licenses and oversees all industrial hemp production in the state as part of a pilot program. The state issued 13 such licenses in 2018.

Currently, state laws regarding the definition of “agricultural” land do not allow the cultivation of hemp. This means hemp can only be grown on non-agricultural land, which is subject to higher tax rates. Until these laws are amended, commercial hemp farming will not really be economically viable in Massachusetts.

Hemp in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has a pilot program allowing eligible farmers to cultivate hemp in the state. Voters approved the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act in November 2018. Michigan lawmakers are working on legislation to expand hemp farming in compliance with the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which passed one month after the state ballot measure.

Currently, farmers must register with the state and obtain a license. The grower registration fee is $100. An additional license to process and handle hemp costs $1,350.

Hemp in Minnesota

Minnesota currently has a pilot program for hemp farmers. Interested growers can apply to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) for a permit that is good for one year. State lawmakers are in the process of developing legislation for permanent hemp farming. But until the USDA can review and approve the state proposal, hemp farmers will need a permit through the pilot program.

Hemp in Mississippi

Mississippi voted earlier this year to remove industrial hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances. At this time the state has no policies in place to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. State legislators are waiting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to announce specific regulations for hemp production.

Hemp in Missouri

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has issued only two licenses to cultivate and process industrial hemp. Currently hemp growers are permitted to cultivate up to 40 acres.

Farmers and the general public are now pushing to make hemp growing easier in the state where hemp was once a major staple. The new law, SB 482, has widespread support and would ease restrictions, remove acreage limits, and make it easier for universities to conduct research.

Hemp in Montana

Montana has been one of the most progressive states in terms of industrial hemp legislation. The state recognizes hemp, with less than 0.3% THC, as a commercial crop that any farmer can grow. Last year they cultivated more than 20,000 acres of hemp.

Farmers must apply to the Montana Department of Agriculture for a hemp growing permit. A Conditional Grower license permits farmers to purchase seed and plant it in the ground. Following further review, a Production license allows the farmer to grow, transport and sell hemp.

Non-psychoactive hemp is an excellent source of fiber and oil. Hemp in Nebraska

The Nebraska Hemp Act is currently under discussion in a state that has the ideal growing conditions for industrial hemp. Anywhere that grows corn is great for hemp. But currently, hemp cultivation is illegal in Nebraska, despite passage of the Federal Hemp Farming Act last year.

Hemp in Nevada

The Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) has implemented an Industrial Hemp Program open to eligible farmers in the state. The NDA is currently issuing permits to growers and regulating production and sale of hemp seed, oil and other products. The NDA has not placed a limit on the size of hemp farming areas.

Hemp in New Hampshire

A bill now moving through the New Hampshire State Legislature proposes to legalize industrial hemp, and appears to have broad support. If passed, the new new law would effectively put the state policy in line with new federal policy based on the 2018 Farm Bill signed by Donald Trump in December.

As for now, industrial hemp remains illegal in New Hampshire. Governor Sununu has spoken out strongly against marijuana, but has said little on the subject of its fibrous cousin.

Hemp in New Jersey

The so-called Garden State passed a hemp bill last November, one month before the passage of the 2018 US Farm Bill. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) recognizes the legality of hemp as a commercial, industrial crop, but is awaiting more specific guidelines from the USDA. According to its website, the NJDA is giving the issue the “highest priority”.

Hemp in New Mexico

In April, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a new bill that makes hemp production legal in the state of New Mexico. While the Department of Health has been overseeing the production of medical marijuana, the Department of Agriculture is regulating industrial hemp.

So far most hemp farming has been experimental, but the new legislation should widen the playing field. Native American communities will also develop their own regulations and licensing procedures.

Hemp in New York

Following the passage of the Farm Bill last year, the state of New York is expanding its Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program. The NY Department of Agriculture and Markets is encouraging agricultural cooperatives to submit letters of interest to participate in the research pilot program.

Farmers can also apply to grow hemp for seed, fiber and CBD oil. Application forms are available online.

Hemp in North Carolina

North Carolina continues to operate under the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program authorized in 2014. State lawmakers are eagerly awaiting more coherent hemp growing guidelines pursuant to the 2018 Farm Bill.

In the meantime, farmers can apply through the NC Dept. of Agriculture. The initial fee for all license holders is $250.  The annual fees are $250 for 49 acres or less, and $500 for 50 acres or more.  All license holders are required to pay an additional fee of $2/acre or $2/square foot of greenhouse, whichever is applicable. Licensed growers are subject to inspection and THC testing, which they will also have to pay for.

Hemp in North Dakota

Still waiting for more specific guidelines from the USDA, the state of North Dakota continues to operate its industrial hemp pilot program based on the 2014 rules.

Farmers interested in growing hemp can apply for a permit through the state. Applicants must undergo a background check and be part of an agricultural or academic research program.

Hemp in Ohio

In March the Ohio Senate voted unanimously to legalize the cultivation and production of industrial hemp in the Buckeye State. Ohio law now follows federal law, removing hemp products from the list of controlled substances.

The next step will be to create a licensing program to be regulated by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Ohio farmers hope to see a program in place by the 2020 planting season.

Hemp in Oklahoma

In April, Governor Kevin Stitt signed legislation establishing guidelines for commercial hemp production in the state of Oklahoma. A pilot program will remain in effect for the remainder of this year.

The department of agriculture expects to see roughly 1,300 acres of hemp planted in 2019, about three times what was planted in 2018. Beginning in 2020, farmers in Oklahoma will move towards full-scale commercial production.

Hemp in Oregon

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is developing a program to monitor and regulate industrial hemp production in the state. The ODA issues growing licenses on an annual basis, and interested farmers can visit the website to fill out an application.

Until further notice, the state of Oregon is following the tentative guidelines of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Hemp in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has followed the federal government’s move to legalize industrial hemp in 2018. The PA Department of Agriculture has formulated a growing program which includes mandatory permitting and monitoring.

The new program removes much of the cumbersome framework which growers, processors and marketers needed to navigate. Farmers interested in Pennsylvania’s program and the permitting application can visit the PDA website.

Hemp in Rhode Island

No one expects Rhode Island to become the nation’s number one producer of industrial hemp. But the state implemented a pilot program last fall and now has one licensed hemp farmer. A second company has applied for a license to process CBD, so the two could soon find themselves working together. It’s a small world when you’re living in Rhode Island.

Hemp in South Carolina

Prior to the 2018 Farm Bill, South Carolina had a pilot program that licensed only about 40 farmers to grow hemp in the state. In February, the state senate passed a new bill that will lift those tight restrictions and greatly expand hemp farming.

The Dept. of Agriculture will continue to review applications for hemp farmers and put a limit on the acreage of hemp they can plant. But anyone who passes the background check should be able to obtain a hemp growing license in the state.

Hemp in South Dakota

South Dakota legislators passed a bill to legalize industrial hemp earlier this year, but Governor Kristi Noem vetoed the bill and the state Senate was unable to override the veto. Most lawmakers who opposed the legislation expressed concern over not being able to distinguish hemp from marijuana. So South Dakota remains one of a handful of states that have not approved the commercial crop.

Hemp in Tennessee

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture continues to issue licenses through its industrial hemp pilot program. But since the passage of the 2018 US Farm Bill, the state has greatly expanded its hemp cultivation. More than 2,600 Tennessee farmers have licenses to grow hemp this year.

Interested famers can apply for a license from the state. All growers are required to have a license, but hemp processors are not.

Hemp in Texas

House Bill 1325 proposes to make industrial hemp and hemp-derived extracts legal in the Lone Star State. The bill appears to have broad support in both chambers of government, but the Texas lawmakers seem to be dragging their feet on the issue. Currently there is no pilot program for hemp farming of any kind in the state.

Hemp in Utah

In December 2018, Utah legalized industrial hemp and possession of the hemp extract CBD. Utah residents no longer need a registration card from the department of health to possess CBD oil. But those interested in cultivating hemp will need a license from the department of agriculture.

Applications for hemp growing licenses are available at the Utah Dept. of Agriculture website. Utah State University is currently conducting extensive research to determine the optimal strain of cannabis with the highest levels of CBD but less than 0.3% THC.

Hemp in Vermont

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (AAFM) recognizes hemp with less than 0.3% THC as an agricultural product. The agency is currently establishing guidelines to regulate the cultivation, production and sale of hemp and hemp related products in the state. These rules will also address standards and expectations for record keeping, reporting, testing, and labeling, and include enforcement provisions as outlined by both state and federal law.  

Hemp in Virginia

As of March 2019, changes to the Virginia Industrial Hemp Law have removed the restriction that hemp only be grown for research purposes. Registered growers can now cultivate hemp commercially in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Applications and complete details concerning the Industrial Hemp Grower Registration are available on Virginia’s government website. There is an application fee of $50.

Hemp in Washington

Prior to 2018, Washington State had a pilot program for hemp farmers, consistent with the 2014 Farm Bill. With the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, that state now accepts hemp as a legal, commercial crop.

The Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) will continue to issue permits to hemp growers. But there will no longer be a research element requirement. The WSDA is in the process of establishing new guidelines that will comply with the latest federal statutes.

Hemp in West Virginia

West Virginia’s Industrial Hemp Development Act authorizes hemp as a commercial, agricultural product, while recognizing the need to strictly regulate marijuana with more than 0.3% THC.

Individuals can apply to the state for a commercial hemp growing license. Applicants must submit to a background check and clearly describe the area they intend to cultivate. Universities and institutes of higher learning can also obtain hemp growing licenses for research purposes.

Hemp in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) continues to run a hemp farming pilot program based on 2014 federal law.

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, interest in the program has blossomed. More than 2000 individuals and businesses applied for hemp growing and processing permits for 2019. In 2018, the DATCP issued a total of 247 grower licenses and 100 processor licenses. 

Hemp in Wyoming

At the bottom of the list, alphabetically if not politically, Wyoming remains one of the last states to lift its prohibition against hemp farming. Situated between Colorado and Montana, two of America’s largest hemp producers, Wyoming is in a perfect position to launch a competitive hemp program.

With the passage of HB171 in March, Wyoming lawmakers are now establishing new policies to get the hemp industry off the ground. The state plans to start issuing hemp farming permits in accordance with USDA regulations, but not in time for the 2019 planting season.

Further Reading What’s the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana Hemp vs. Bamboo: The Ultimate Comparison
Giant bamboo for building and construction

With all the talk about bamboo construction and building houses from bamboo, a lot of people are asking: What are the best varieties of bamboo for building?

In fact, most botanists recognize more than 1200 species of bamboo, or as many as 2000. And while each variety of bamboo is special and amazing in its own way, only a handful are well suited for construction.

The best bamboos for building typically belong to one of these four genera: Guadua, Dendrocalamus, Bambusa and Phyllostachys. We’ll get into the specific varieties in a moment, but first there are a few things you need to know about bamboo in general.

Know your bamboo

With thousands of varieties of bamboo to choose from, you can truly find a perfect species for any occasion. There are ideal specimens for making fishing poles, excellent bamboos for eating, beautiful accents for your Japanese garden, cold hardy varieties for the mountains, and adaptable candidates for bonsai.

And of course, there are plenty of varieties that have multiple uses. Bambusa oldhamii, for example, can provide an excellent privacy hedge, and its fresh, young shoots are also tender and delicious to eat. Oldhamii‘s long, straight canes even make for a great building material.

And there are many more varieties that look beautiful in the garden while also having other valuable functions. But then some bamboos are strictly ornamental. They might grow prolifically and add plenty of character to your landscape design, but their canes aren’t as useful. And finally, some varieties may be ideal for producing giant poles for construction, but just aren’t practical to plant in your backyard.

Your bamboo criteria

So determining the best variety will depend on a lot of factors. If you want to grow the bamboo yourself, you will need to be sure that it’s suitable for your climate and soil type. Most of the best bamboos for building are indigenous to tropical and subtropical climates.

Now if you live in Florida, that’s great. But if you’re in New York or Minnesota, it’s going to be a challenge. You might be surprised though, to see how many varieties of bamboo can thrive in a place like Oregon.

Whether you decide to grow the bamboo yourself, or order dry poles from a building material supplier, you will need to consider your specific needs. First of all: how big do you need? Some bamboos grow over 100 feet tall and up to 8 or 10 inches in diameter. Keep in mind, these results are rare. They are also based on ideal growing conditions, which you may or may not be able to provide. Furthermore, if you want to order 100-foot bamboo poles and have them shipped, it could be pretty costly.

If you’re looking for bamboo that’s 3-4 inches in diameter and 30 or 40 feet long, that’s very doable. Even if you live in a temperate climate, you should be able to grow bamboo this size. But it requires some space to spread out. Don’t expect to grow bamboo like this in a small, suburban backyard without ruffling some feathers with your neighbors. It can get out of control.

Then you have a number of other factors to consider. Most bamboo, you’ve no doubt noticed, are hollow in the center. And the best varieties for building will have the thickest walls. But some types of bamboo, in Vietnam for example, are actually solid. This could be desirable, or not, depending how you want to use it.

Also, for decorative purposes, you will want to think about the color. Some bamboos are very dark, almost black, and look beautiful when dried. You may want to use some black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) for decorative accents. Although it does not have ideal properties for building. Keep in mind, most bamboo is dark green when it grows, but turns yellow once it dries.

Your bamboo building budget

At last, you need to think about how much you want to spend on your construction project. Bamboo has a reputation for being a remarkably renewable and inexpensive building material. And while it is very renewable, it is not necessarily cheap to build with.

In subtropical areas of Central America and Southeast Asia, where the bamboo is ubiquitous, the raw material is basically free. The bamboo will grow back faster than you can raise a house. And simple structures, resistant to floods and earthquakes, can be assembled at a minimal cost.

If you’re planning a bamboo house in the U.S. however, you will need to comply with strict building codes and regulations. That will probably involve hiring an engineer and an architect. You will also want to obtain specialized hardware for connecting corners and sealing gaps.

Most bamboo builders want to create a house with the minimal carbon footprint. That’s why they choose bamboo over conventional lumber. In keeping with this philosophy, they will want to incorporate passive solar, rainwater catchment and other green features. These elements could drive up your initial costs, but save you money in energy and utilities in the long run.

Best bamboos for construction Genus Guadua

For the smallest carbon footprint, your choice of bamboo will depend mainly on what variety is available in your area. In South and Central America, there is really only one choice of bamboo for construction. And it’s one of the most important varieties of bamboo on earth.

The genus Guadua contains about 20 different species. These are all massive timber varieties, and some of them grow more than 100 feet tall and more than 6 inches in diameter.

Guadua is a neotropical variety, meaning that it grows indigenously in the tropic and subtropic regions of the New World, namely Central and South America. And these are clumping bamboos, as opposed to the more aggressive running types. G. angustifolia, native to the area between Venezuela and Peru, is the most widely used. But other species are also common, depending mainly on the geography.

Bamboo construction is widespread in Latin America, especially in Colombia and Ecuador, where it has a long history. Simón Vélez, of Colombia, is one of the best known gurus in the field of bamboo construction. His bamboo structures in Asian and Latin America are legendary.

Guadua angustifolia

Alexander von Humboldt and Simón Bolívar brought attention to the Guadua bamboo in the 1800s, praising its strength and utility. And because of its rich history, botanists and bamboo enthusiasts from around the world have studied this genus extensively.

Today, international efforts are under way to propagate Guadua in more parts of Central and South America. INBAR (The International Bamboo and Rattan Organization) is working with organizations in Ecuador and throughout the continent to promote the use of bamboo for affordable housing.

In addition to its superior size and strength, Guadua also has excellent ecological properties. This fast-growing variety can convert significant amounts of CO2 and plays an important role in habitat restoration. In areas of deforestation, around the Amazon for example, bamboo is an excellent pioneer crop. It grows quickly, restores the soil, and paves the way for the return of other native species. And because Guadua is a clumping bamboo, it’s not going to take over the whole forest.

Genus Dendrocalamus

Native to the tropic and subtropic regions of India and Southeast Asia, Dendrocalamus includes several species with important uses for construction. Most members of this clumping genus can grow up to 50 or 60 feet tall with mature culms of 3-5 inches in diameter.

Here at Bambu Batu, we have a particular affinity for Dendrocalamus strictus. This species is sometimes called Male Bamboo or Calcutta Bamboo. And in Indonesia the natives refer to it as Bambu Batu, which translates literally as Rock Bamboo.

Revered for its hardness, this species is common for furniture and light construction, as well as paper making. The culms have especially thick walls, and in dry conditions they are nearly solid. Another nickname for this species is Solid Bamboo.

More popular for heavy construction, Dendrocalamus asper is another giant species that grows throughout Indonesia, Southeast Asia and the Philippines. This prolific species is used for everything from houses and bridges to housewares and musical instruments. Its young shoots can also be the source of a nutritious meal.

You’ll find the most impressive monuments of D. asper on the island of Bali in Indonesia. Here, John Hardy and the architecture and design firm known as IBUKU have built some of the world most astonishing bamboo houses and structures with D. asper.

In fact, they have even built a school with the world’s first all-bamboo campus. Check out the Bali Green School to learn more. Or visit Bamboo U to sign up for one of Hardy’s intensive courses in bamboo construction.

Genus Bambusa

One of the more common genera of bamboo, Bambusa contains well over 100 species, mostly native to Asia and the Pacific Islands. Many of these clumping bamboos are popular garden specimens, especially Oldham’s (B. oldhamii). Bambusa varieties are also well-known for their tasty and edible shoots.

Most species of Bambusa grow tall and upright, with handsome canes up 40-60 feet high. The best species for building puposes is probably B. bambos. Also known as Giant Thorny Bamboo, this variety can get up to 100 feet tall. Its poles have very thick walls, and when growing, the plant has a very dark green appearance.

Besides home construction, this species is also useful for a variety of applications. Bambusa poles are versatile for fencing, scaffolding, thatching, and crafts.

Genus Phyllostachys

Another of the largest genera of bamboo, Phyllostachys also contains more than 100 varieties. Native to China and Taiwan, it’s mostly subtropical but tends to tolerate a more temperate habitat. For this reason, it is commonly found in many more parts of the world.

But be careful, because unlike the other three bamboo genera above, Phyllostachys is definitely a runner. This means their roots will grow aggressively, and they can easily get out of control. Some people like how fast these bamboos cover a large area, especially when they are trying to create a large privacy hedge. But it doesn’t take long for your privacy screen to go on the attack and uproot the rest of your yard. And your neighbor’s yard.

In China, this genus is especially ubiquitous. The Chinese use numerous varieties for everything from construction and scaffolding to chopsticks and handicrafts. You can generally recognize a Phyllostachys specimen pretty easily by the distinctive groove that runs along its internodes. (See image.)

Phyllostachys with its distinctive groove

In temperate climates, P. vivax is one of the more popular varieties of timber bamboo. Its massive poles have a lovely yellow hue and grow up to about 60 feet tall and 4-5 inches thick.

One of the most important bamboo varieties of all, P. edulis is now the primary species of commercial bamboo. Commonly referred to as Moso Bamboo, this is the source for bamboo flooring and clothing, two major industries that have emerged in the last 20 years.

Further reading

To learn more about the many varieties of bamboo, their many uses, and how to select the best variety, take a look at these other articles.

10 Best bamboos for your garden 11 Cold hardy bamboos for snowy climates Dendrocalamus strictus, aka Bambu Batu Buddha’s Belly Bamboo The complete guide to growing bamboo What’s so great about bamboo?
How to grow bamboo

The benefits of cultivating and using bamboo are almost endless, and you can read all about them in our article What’s so great about bamboo? And even if you’re not growing bamboo on an industrial scale, you can think of all sorts of reasons to plant it in your own home garden.

But before you start planting bamboo, you need to be sure you know what you’re doing. Bamboo, after all, is a mighty plant. Sometimes it seems to have a mind of its own. So if you’re not well informed and prepared, you might just end up with a great mess on your hands.

In order to help you get the most out of your bamboo, and to make the most out of your garden, we’ve prepared a comprehensive how-to guide. This should include everything you need to know about growing bamboo. From choosing the best varieties for your landscape, to watering, pruning and transplanting, we cover it all.

And by following these basic instructions, you should be able to create a lush and beautiful garden. Of course, it helps to have a green thumb, but it’s certainly not essential. Even you’re thumb isn’t green already, it will be by the time you get through this how-guide and spend a few weekends among the rhizomes.

DISCLOSURE: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you click through those links and make a purchase. This helps us meet the cost of maintaining our website and producing great articles.

Why grow bamboo?

There are dozens of reasons to plant bamboo in your garden. But before you get started, you need to think about YOUR reasons for growing bamboo. Because your reasons will play a very important role in determining which varieties of bamboo you want and where you want to plant them.

Perhaps you want to grow bamboo for a privacy screen. This is one of the most common reasons why people plant bamboo. Many varieties of bamboo grow very quickly and get very tall and bushy, like a hedge. Some even grow up to 50 or 60 feet high, tall enough to provide privacy in your upstairs in windows.

But maybe privacy is not a concern, and you just want some beautiful bamboo to decorate you garden. You’ll want something that looks good with your landscape. A lighter, yellowish bamboo could bring a good contrast. Or dark canes with deep green might work better.

Are you going for a Japanese garden look, or just something tropical? Do you want an eye-catching centerpiece with unique character in the middle of your garden? Or just a some accents alongside an already established landscape? Bamboo could accomplish any of these things.

If your property is spacious, bamboo could be just the thing to fill some of that empty space and cover it quickly with greenery. Do you want to hear thick canes knocking in the window, or just the light rustle of leaves? If you have sloping land or waterways, bamboo’s complex roots are also ideal for erosion control.

With a small garden, in a suburban neighborhood or even an apartment, you may be better off keeping your bamboo in a pot. You might even want an indoor plant, which could be tricky, but not impossible with bamboo.

And maybe none of these practical and aesthetic purposes mean anything to you. You might just be interested in sequestering as much carbon as possible, and producing the maximum amount of clean oxygen. Bamboo is great for that, too.

Like I said, the reasons for planting bamboo are almost endless. You could just be aspiring botanist, or even an accomplished botanist, dazzled by the fact that bamboo is both a wood and grass. And with as many as two thousand species and subspecies, you’d like to cultivate as many varieties as you possibly can.

Choosing the best variety of bamboo

Once you’ve given some deep thought to why you’re growing bamboo and what you want to get out of it, you can make a better decision on which variety or varieties to plant. You’ll also need to consider how much space you have in your garden. Finally, you need to be aware of your local condition. Your climate zone and soil type will have a significant effect on how your bamboo performs.

To learn more about selecting the right species, check out our article on the 10 Best Bamboo varieties for your garden.

Running or Clumping Bamboo? Runners without borders

Usually, when people think of bamboo varieties, they split them into two categories. First you have your running bamboos, with their notoriously aggressive rhizome roots. This unstoppable growth habit has earned bamboo a bad reputation in some gardening circles.

Running bamboos have no respect for property lines or antique rose gardens. They can tear up your lawn, and your neighbors’ lawns. They can also wreak havoc on your sprinkler system, even your plumbing and your gas line. Bamboo has even been known to get into the exterior walls of a house.

And when you (or your neighbor) finally decide you’ve had enough, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Removing a well-established grove of running bamboo can be one of the greatest challenges in a master gardener’s play book. Bring out all your heavy tools, including a pick ax and a saws-all. You might even need to rent a back-ho.

Run for your life

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Unfortunately, a lot of amateur bamboo enthusiasts will run to the hardware store and grab a few inexpensive pots of golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea). Because it grows so prolifically, or invasively, it’s quite easy to propagate. For that reason it’s pretty inexpensive and easy to come by. But it can be a monster when you let it loose in your garden.

All members of the genus Phyllostachys are runners and should be handled with care. Luckily, you can easily recognize a Phyllostachys by the prominent groove (sulcus) that runs along the length of each segment (internode).

Phyllostachys bamboo with the distinctive groove.

Knowing this, you might wonder, why would I ever plant a running bamboo? But as it happens, there are a few running bamboos that are among the most popular strains. Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) has beautiful deep green foliage and dark canes that look wonderful in the garden and are lovely for building. Phyllostachys vivax is also popular for its massive height and girth. Its poles provide great privacy and are excellent for construction purposes.

Privacy screens and hedges are one of the most common reasons why people choose to plant bamboo. And when they do this, they want the hedge to fill in quickly. Therefore it makes sense to select a fast growing variety of bamboo, and that’s usually a runner.

Containing bamboo

If you do end up planting a running bamboo, you can also take precautions so that it doesn’t get out of control. The best method is to bury a rhizome root barrier deep into the ground and surround your bamboo with it.

The most popular, most effective, tried and true bamboo containing material is available online from Amazon. It’s the DeepRoot Bamboo Barrier, 30″ deep by 100 ft roll. This stuff is nearly invincible, going a serious 2.5 feet underground, and the 100-ft roll gives you enough length to contain a pretty major privacy hedge.

Once you’ve got your root barrier in the ground, you can rest easy know that your bamboo will stay in its place. Because without a reliable containment system, the roots are liable to get everywhere. And they might not do it right away, but eventually, a runner’s gonna run.

You can also try confining your bamboo in a large pot. I like to use half-barrels, which look more natural in a garden setting, but also have a lot of space. Even so, a bamboo in a barrel will never reach its full size the way it will when its roots are allowed to run free in the ground. And that’s a shame if you’re grown a nice big timber bamboo.

Furthermore, when you put running bamboo into a pot, you can run into other problems. The bamboo can get root-bound quickly. So you’ll need to transplant and divide the rootball regularly. Otherwise, your pot might burst. It’s also very difficult to water bamboo when it gets root-bound. The water will tend to roll off without actually penetrating down into the roots.

Check out our in-depth article on Bamboo Containment for more details.

Clumpers make good neighbors

As you can see, growing running bamboo can be a challenge. So it’s easy to see why many gardeners prefer to seek out clumping varieties. Even so, it’s important to realize that not all clumpers are equal.

Just as some runners are far more aggressive than others, this is also a range of growth habits among clumping bamboo. Typically, the clump will spread until it reaches full maturity. For some clumping varieties, the mature plant might only be 5 or 6 feet across, but others can get 15 or 20 feet wide.

So just because you have a clumping bamboo, it doesn’t mean you can go ahead and plant it right next to your property line. It’s still going to spread out, and could potentially get into your neighbor’s flower beds. Similarly, a clumping bamboo won’t necessarily be happy in a pot. Because most pots are going to be much smaller than the full size of a mature clumper.

If you really prefer to plant in pots and containers, you’ll be better off looking for dwarf bamboo varieties. There are actually quite a few such bamboos to choose from, some being far more dwarfish than others. A dwarf green stripe, for example, only gets a couple feet tall. And a dwarf Buddha Belly can get more than 10 feet tall, although it probably won’t if it’s in a pot.

Again, take a look at our article on the 10 Best Bamboos for your garden for more details about some specific varieties.

Tropical or Cold Hardy?

Once you’ve got a good handle on the size of bamboo you want to grow, and you’ve thought through the aesthetic considerations, you need to be sure you’re planting a bamboo that’s appropriate for your climate. Most bamboos are native to tropical and subtropical zones, but again, there’s wide variety to choose from.

Some tropical bamboos will actually do fine in cooler climates, while others may simply languish. And there are a lot of varieties that come from mountainous regions and will grow well in the snow. Although many will not tolerate such low temperatures.

It’s important to get the specs on your bamboo, especially if you live in an area that snows. We have an article on Cold Hardy Bamboo if you’re looking for some specific recommendations.

Sourcing and Propagating Bamboo

When you’re deciding what bamboo to grow in your garden, your best bet might be to visit a local nursery. Even better if you can find a local bamboo specialist. There are quite a few in California and Oregon, as well as down in the South. Specialists will know the varieties most suited for your part of the country.

Here are a few very reputable bamboo nurseries.

Bamboo Sourcery in Sebastopol, CA Bamboo Giant in Santa Cruz, CA San Marcos Growers in San Diego, CA Bamboo Garden Nursery in Portland, OR Lewis Bamboo in Alabama

If there is no bamboo specialist in your area, you can try your luck at a regular nursery, or you can order plants online. Most of these nurseries ship live plants nationwide.

How to grow bamboo from seeds

Bamboo flowers very irregularly, so obtaining seeds can be difficult. Most bamboo specialists only sell live, established plants. But if you’d really prefer to grow you bamboo from seed, it can be done.

Start by getting some nice bamboo seeds. You’ll probably have to order them online. Because growing from seeds is tricky, you’ll want to plant a lot of seeds, at least ten or twenty. Many of them may not survive.

For best results, get some peat pellets to start your seeds. You can easily order an inexpensive package peat pellets from Amazon. These pellets soak up water, and maintain the ideal level of moisture to germinate your seeds. During germination, you want to keep your seeds warm. It could take a week or so before you see them sprout. Always keep the pellets moist.

A bright spot in the window with a tray and a clear lid will create the perfect environment. You can also order germination trays from Amazon. Keep in mind, seedlings naturally sprout in the shade of taller plants, so indirect sunlight is best. Too much direct sunlight can be lethal.

Once the seedlings get a few inches tall, which could take a few weeks, you can place them into small one-gallon pot with some good potting soil. The design of the peat pellets makes it very easy to transplant them into dirt when you see the roots coming through the bottom. Also add some mulch to the pot, and see that the top of the peat pellet is slightly covered.

Keep the small pots in a bright window with plenty of indirect light, or in a sheltered spot outside with full shade. Water regularly, but be sure to let the soil dry out in between waterings. If the leaves start to curl, they need more water. If the leaves turn pale or brown, they are getting too much direct sunlight.

Once the roots have filled the pot, you should see some of them poking through the holes in the bottom of the pots. This could take some months, depending on the bamboo variety and your growing conditions. At this point, you can carefully transplant the young bamboo into a larger pot, or put it right into the ground. (See soil preparation section below.)

Propagating bamboo cuttings

The most common way to propagate bamboo is by root cuttings. This is much easier and produces much quicker results than growing from seed. It’s also the more common method used by mother nature.

Note: This is not the sort of cutting that’s commonly done with other plants and trees. Many plants can be cut where the stem is still soft and green, not yet brown and woody, and placed in water. Within days, you will frequently find that the cutting has grown roots. From here, you can transplant the rooted cutting into soil. Some plants can grow like this in a vase of water indefinitely. Lucky bamboo, is a perfect example. But lucky bamboo is not actually a bamboo or a member of the grass family. Cuttings from grasses will not root. (See our article on Bamboo vs. Lucky Bamboo.)

To take a cutting of bamboo, you need to break off a chunk of roots. This method typically has a very high success rate. Also, must bamboos need to be cut back periodically anyway, especially if they are in pots or growing in a residential neighborhood.

In some cases, you might just be able to break off a section from the main rootball. But usually, the root network is so tightly developed that you’ll need a strong saw to get through it. Making a clean cut will also be healthier for the plant, both the “mother” bamboo as well as the cutting.

Generally it’s easier to do this sort of operation when the soil is wet. And try to avoid doing it during the cutting season.

If you’re dealing with a potted bamboo, simply lift the whole root mass out of the pot. Then you’ll want to cut it into at least three or four sections. This will ensure that the new sections have plenty of room to spread out once they are repotted. Also, there’s a chance that some cuttings won’t survive the stress, so it doesn’t hurt to have some extras. Once replanted, with some nice, rich potting soil, be sure to keep them pretty wet for the first few weeks. The young cuttings, once established, will make great housewarming gifts.

If you’re taking cuttings from a bamboo in the ground, it can be a little more difficult. You probably need to do some digging to get in there and make a clean cut. And you might need to make several cuts, around and below, to separate from the main rootball. Just make sure there’s enough growth on the cutting. A cutting with at least one mature cane and a few younger shoots should look great and transplant nicely.

Preparing the soil for your bamboo

Bamboo is pretty hardy, and it can survive in most soil types, under a variety of harsh conditions. But if you want your bamboo to thrive, rather than just survive, you need to start by giving it a good soil medium.

Whether I’m planting bamboo in the ground or in a pot, I like to mix about half-and-half potting soil and compost or manure. Just be sure the compost or manure is not too hot and fresh. Horse manure is generally a good choice. If the manure is too hot (fresh cow pies or chicken poop), the tips of the bamboo leaves will likely turn brown.

How you prepare your planting mix will also depend on your specific soil type. If you planting in rocky or heavy clay soil, you will want to add more sand in the mix to improve drainage. If you have very sandy soil, you will want to use extra compost or manure to enrich the mix.

Another trick I like to use when planting in pots is to cover the bottom with small stones or peach pits. This helps to promote good drainage, while also preventing the soil from slipping out of the drain holes. I’ve seen many cases where the roots kept pushing out the dirt, little by little, until the pot was almost all roots and no soil. This makes it almost impossible for the roots to absorb the water they need.

If you’re planting in the ground, start by digging a good sized hole, maybe twice the size of your rootball. If it’s hard, clay soil, make the hole at least 3 times the size of your rootball. If you’re using a root barrier, dig the hole according the maximum size you want the bamboo to spread. Then bury the barrier. Be sure to get at least two feet deep. The root barrier is strongly recommended with any running variety, especially if you live in a residential neighborhood.

Then mostly fill the hole with your mix of soil and compost, and give the soil a good soaking. Then place the bamboo into the soil, with the surface just slightly higher than the surface of the surrounding ground. Then water it once again. After the second watering, the bamboo should sink a little further into the ground. Finally, level it off by covering the whole area with some mulch or wood chips.

Maintaining your bamboo

Now that you have just the right varieties of bamboo happily established in your garden, you need to make sure you keep them happy.

Feeding and fertilizing

I’m a firm believer in organic gardening and using what’s local. So I’ll never buy a jug of Miracle-Gro. I like to use different kinds of compost tea, and sometimes I use pellets that release slowly. But also happen to know a lot of farmers and landscapers, so I have a good source for compost tea. I can also get horse manure pretty easily.

Either way, just follow the directions, and add some nutrients about twice a year. I like to fertilize in spring and fall. Then, if I’m adding horse manure, I’ll top it off with a few more inches of mulch. The mulch helps keep the nutrient and the moisture in place. And eventually the mulch breaks down, adding more nutrients and also helping with drainage.

When to water bamboo

Bamboo likes to have a pretty steady supply of water. Depending on your climate, it usually needs watering once or twice a week. Of course, if it’s raining, your job is done. But if it’s a heat wave in the height of summer, you might need to water it every day. If you see the leaves curling, that usually means it’s thirsty. It might take a couple days after watering for the leaves to get back to normal.

Potted bamboos are the most sensitive when it comes to watering. They can dry out quickly, especially in black plastic or clay pots. They might need watering every other day. But pots can also have drainage problems. If the water isn’t draining the roots can have mold and rot issues. Be sure the pots are not root bound, and allow the soil to dry thoroughly between watering.

Pruning your bamboo

You might never need to prune your bamboo. Most bamboos varieties that are sold in nurseries are pretty attractive and look good naturally. Their leaves will fall and just add to the mulch. But in same cases, pruning is a good idea.

Certain varieties, especially striped bamboo like Alphonse Karr look great when you remove the lower branches. When you cut back all the growth around the bottom 3 feet or so of the plant, it really shows off the distinct color of the canes.

Buddha Belly is another species where you want to show off the shapes of the culms. Also, pruning Buddha Belly from the top will encourage the poles to grow more zigzagged, when produces a very interesting effect.

If you have bamboo privacy hedge, you may want to prune the top to make it clean and level. Personally, I prefer to let it grow naturally to it’s full height. Eventually the mature canes will top out at around the same place. But in some well-manicured gardens, a clean, square hedge might look more attractive.

More important, however, is the pruning of the roots. Especially with running bamboos, but also with clumpers, you want to dig in at least once a year, maybe more, and see where the roots are. In some case, the running rhizomes can be spreading much faster than the above ground bamboo would lead you to believe. You can cut these back with a sharp spade, or use a good pair of clippers for more precision.

Harvesting bamboo

Congratulations, you’ve successfully grown a bumper crop of bamboo! If you’re really into it, like me, you have some showcase pieces around the center of your garden, like Buddha Belly and Alphonse Karr. Then your perimeter will be lined with a nice bamboo hedge. And finally, you might have some compact, dwarf varieties to fill in the gaps and accent your more majestic specimens.

Among the varieties, you will certainly have at least one or two that produce tall, straight handsome poles for building and home decor purposes. Black bamboo dries out beautifully, with its rich dark brown tones. You can use it for any number of light carpentry projects. Then you may have some giant timber bamboo for heavier construction. Maybe some surfboard racks in the garage or some framing in the man cave. The possibilities are limitless.

Select the nicest canes, just the right size for whatever project you have in mind, and cut them down to just an inch or two above the ground. Any sharp wood saw should do the trick. Bamboo is very easy to cut through, because it’s hollow (usually). Just make a clean cut, and try to cut as close to the node as possible.

From there you can cut it down to the size you want. You will probably want to let it dry before you get too crafty with it. The color change, usually from green to yellow when it dries out. Small poles will take a few weeks to dry. And giant timber poles can take a few months. Best to let them cure slowly, in a dry, shady place.

Conclusion

Now you are ready to tame the wild beast. Maybe check out some bamboo photography collections to get inspired on what varieties to plant and how to use them for maximum effect in your garden. Then look for a some good spaces in your garden that need some revitalization. Maybe pull out some old Morning Glory vine or some other nuisance, and make room for a spectacle of bamboo. Plant wisely, and your bamboo garden could soon be the envy of the entire neighborhood!

buddha belly bamboo with bulbous culms

A fast-growing clumper with well-defined culms, Buddha Belly stands out as one of the most popular varieties of ornamental bamboo. While its irregular shape makes it less than ideal for poles and other uses, Buddha Belly Bamboo looks gorgeous in any garden.

The botany of Buddha Belly Bamboo

Buddha Belly and Buddha’s Belly are common names for the species of bamboo known as Bambusa ventricosa. Bambusa is a large genus of clumping bamboo. Typically, Bambusa varieties have multiple branches coming off of each node.

Most species of Bambusa, including Buddha Belly, are native to Southeast Asia, China and Melanesia. More specifically, Buddha Belly is indigenous to Vietnam and the Guangdong province of southern China. It can also grow happily in subtropical regions around the world.

And Ventricosa, the speciation, means wide in the middle and tapering at the ends. This accurately describes the distinctive culm shape that earned this strain of bamboo its common name.

Why is it called Buddha Belly?

Under most circumstances, the culms of Bambusa ventricosa grow more compact, with shorter internodes that bulge out in the middle. So unlike most of the more common bamboos, with their stick-straight canes, the bulbous culms of this variety look like chubby little bellies. And when you think of chubby bellies in Southeast Asia, it’s hard not to think of the laughing Buddha.

Buddha’s Eightfold Path promises to bring deliverance from suffering. And Buddhism is the most popular religion in this part of the world. Furthermore, bamboo is already recognized to be something of a magical plant. So naming an already attractive variety after the Buddha just makes sense.

Why is Buddha Belly so popular?

Of course, nearly every variety of bamboo has a look of tranquil elegance. But to the untrained eye, most types of bamboo look very similar. Buddha Belly’s distinctive shape is what gives the plant its unusual appeal. Also, in addition to the bulging bellies, the canes will sometimes grow in a zigzag, rather than simply upright. Neither straight nor narrow, this plant has real character.

Also, this species of bamboo grows quickly, but not aggressively. This is an ideal combination. Furthermore, it’s an excellent candidate for bonsai. (See Growth Habit, below.)

And naturally, it doesn’t hurt to have a great name. Invoking the name of Buddha adds an air of majesty to the plant. At the same time, the mention of his belly brings a sense of levity to the situation.

Bamboo, in general, already holds a high place in Asian culture and religion. And its association with Buddha is nothing so unusual. The fact that bamboo has such strength and resilience, but also flexibility, gives it a sort of Taoist connotation, too. It’s important to be able to bend in the breeze and flow like water. Also, bamboo is hollow, reminding us of the Buddhist principle of emptiness.

For more great examples of bamboo in Eastern legend and folklore, check out our extensive article on Bamboo Symbolism.

One of the most highly sought after subspecies is the Yellow Buddha Belly Bamboo (Bambusa ventricosa kimmei). The young shoots come up green, but gradually turn to yellow, sometimes producing some beautiful stripes. The Yellow Buddha can easily get up 40 or 50 feet tall, but the bottom few feet are usually bare, leaving the handsome culms visibly exposed.

Growth Habit

One of the most important things to understand about bamboo, when you plant it in your garden, is how it grows. Some running bamboos are incredibly aggressive and must be vigilantly contained. Other clumping varieties are pretty tame. And some are downright unpredictable.

How fast does Buddha Belly grow?

Part of what people like about Buddha Belly, besides it bulbous culms and irregular shape, is just how fast it grows. It is a clumping variety, as opposed to a runner, with those out-of-control rhizome roots. But even so, it is an unusually vigorous clumper.

So give this plant some room to spread out. If you’re looking for a privacy barrier, the Buddha Belly will fill out quickly. Or if you’ve got the space, give it a central position in the garden and make a showpiece out of it. It looks stunning at night with some good lighting.

How big will it get?

Your standard variety of Buddha Belly can get up to about 30 feet tall in the best conditions, with 2.5 inch culms. But there are also a number of subspecies to be aware of.

Giant Buddha Belly (Bambusa Vulgaris cv. Wamin) will reach full maturity after several years. At that point the whole clump can be about 15 feet in diameter with poles as much as 45 feet tall.

Another subspecies is known as Dwarf Buddha Belly, and this one is much more compact, as the name implies. Still, it’s a fast grower and can reach full size after just a few years. A mature plant will get up to about 12 feet tall. A bit more manageable, but equally attractive, this variety is very popular, especially in warmer climates.

Can I keep my Buddha Belly in a pot?

Yes, this variety does pretty well in a container. But like most large plants, they are more comfortable in the soil where the roots can stretch out and drain well. A potted plant will require more attention, and it won’t grow nearly as tall as a Bambusa planted directly in the earth.

If you prefer potted plants, and you have time to give them extra care and attention, Buddha Belly also makes for an ideal bonsai specimen. (See below.)

How much water does it need?

Under normal conditions, you’ll want to give your Buddha Belly a deep watering about once or twice a week, depending on the weather. If you’re bamboo is in a pot, just be sure it has good drainage. It should be able to dry out thoroughly in between waterings.

Will Buddha Belly survive in cold, freezing temperatures?

Buddha Belly and Giant Buddha Belly are somewhat cold hardy, and a mature plant will be more cold resistant than a young one. In some cases they can survive temperatures as low as 20º F.

Dwarf Buddha Belly bamboo is going to be less cold hardy. For this reason, the dwarf variety is more popular in places like Florida and Southern California where it’s not likely to freeze. But a little overnight frost probably won’t kill it.

Why is my Buddha Belly growing without bulbous culms?

In some cases, you might find that your Buddha Belly culms are growing like ordinary bamboo, without the characteristic bulging or zig-zagging. But don’t worry. Master bamboo gardeners have developed some tricks to help encourage this desirable trait by inducing stress.

One way to promote bulging culms is to prune the tops of the poles at least once a year. Without their tops, the bamboo will also tend to do more zig-zagging.

Stressing the plants with water deprivation is also a very effective method. Of course, you have to be careful not to over-stress and kill the plant. Generally, the leaves will start to curl when a bamboo is in need of water.

Buddha Belly Bonsai

One more reason that Buddha Belly is so popular is its adaptability for bonsai. Whenever you take a tree and miniaturize it in a small Chinese pot, you have a pretty great effect. Some trees can’t handle this kind of stress, but Buddha Belly, as mentioned above, thrives under stress.

Maintaining a bonsai means pruning the tops as well as the roots on a regular basis. This keeps the plant or tree small and prevents the roots from getting bound. With some trees, it also has the effect of making thicker bark and smaller leaves.

If you have the patience to do this with a Dwarf Buddha Belly Bamboo, you’ll surely be delighted with the results.

Can I grow this bamboo indoors?

Ordinarily, growing bamboo indoors is a very bad idea. Bamboo is a grass and wants to be outdoors in the sun and the breeze. But Buddha Belly is quite adaptable. Although it prefers full or partial sun, it can grow acclimated to an indoor climate. Keep it close to a window with good lighting and fresh air.

Can I propagate my Buddha Belly?

In general, it’s a bit more difficult to take cuttings from a clumping bamboo than a running bamboo, but it can certainly be done. Buddha Belly is a fast grower, so you usually end up with more bamboo than you need anyway.

For best results, try and break a small clump, with at least two or three culms, off of the main root ball. You will need a sharp saw to make a clean cut. Do this during the growing season and when the soil is damp. Keep the roots of the cutting intact, and transplant quickly into fresh soil.

Further reading

To learn more about some of the most popular varieties of bamboo, take a look at these other informative articles.

Growing Bamboo: The complete how-to guide 10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden 11 Cold hardy bamboos for snowy climates Dendrocalamus strictus, also known as Bambu Batu
Hemp and Marijuana are different

When you work with natural fibers and sustainable materials, one of the greatest sources of confusion is the relationship between hemp and marijuana. Are they the same, or are they different? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought up the subject of hemp clothing or hemp paper, only to be asked: “Can I smoke it?”

Most of the time, of course, people would simply ask this in jest. But even in jest, there are shades of truth. The fact is, most people aren’t exactly sure what the difference is between the hemp that makes clothing and the marijuana that makes you giggle and crave Ben & Jerry’s.

Understandably, the distinction can be a little confusing. After all, that five-pointed leaf is pretty unmistakable. And Cannabis sativa is Cannabis sativa, right? Well, sort of.

Yes we cannabis

It’s true, hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, and for the most part, they are Cannabis sativa. The leaves look very similar, and in some cases identical. And botanically speaking, they belong to the same species. That means the pollen of a hemp plant can fertilize the flowers of a marijuana plant, and vice versa.

And at last, according to Johnny Law, they are one in the same. At least if Johnny Law is a federal agent. But we’ll get to that.

So what’s the difference?

The way I like to explain it is this: poodles and pit bulls.

Both of these dogs belong to the same species, Canis familiaris. They are all dogs, and we all know a dog when we see one. And as members of the same species, a male pit bull can fertilize a female poodle. So long as they can overcome certain mechanical challenges.

At the same time, we can easily tell the difference between a poodle and a pit bull. You wouldn’t carry a pit bull in a purse, and you wouldn’t train a poodle to protect your home from burglars.

Similarly with hemp and marijuana, they do belong to the same species. But they are not difficult to distinguish.

Now this is only an analogy, and maybe not a perfect one. But it’s pretty accurate. These days there are hundreds of varieties of cannabis, mostly high-grade marijuana, with all kinds of fancy names. And some varieties are more distinct than others. Somewhat like show dogs.

Other distinctions

Another way to know for certain that they are different is because many countries have managed to grow hemp while maintaining strict laws against marijuana. Typically, the laws in those countries say that if it contains less than one percent THC (the most important psychoactive compound), then it’s hemp.

Anything with more than one percent THC is illegal. And in the U.S., the new limit on industrial hemp is 0.3 percent THC. But the fact is, the marijuana people smoke these days typically has at least 4 or 5 percent THC, but usually more like 20 percent or more.

Sometimes, however, in places like Nepal, mountain hemp is in small production, and marijuana use remains illicit but common. My understanding is that these small producers are actually working with varieties that are tall and fibrous but still have enough THC to do the job.

In general however, it’s pretty easy to recognize a hemp farm, with its tall, lanky plants, in long, crowded rows. It looks more like corn growing. Marijuana tends to be shorter and bushier, with the high-grade stuff requiring quite a bit more individual attention.

It’s also true that even a non-psychoactive hemp plant can smell pretty fragrant. But it won’t have the same degree of resinous stickiness. And the aroma isn’t nearly as strong.

Males and females

A common misnomer, which I’ve often heard, says that marijuana comes from the females and hemp comes from the males. Now there’s just enough truth in that statement to make it sound believable. But it’s simply wrong.

When growing for the potent, resin-producing tops, pot farmers will keep the flowering females and eradicate the pollen-producing males. Otherwise the males will pollenate the females, and the flowers will be loaded with seeds. Maybe that was OK for Cheech and Chong back in the 70s, but today? Not cool.

With a hemp farm, on the other hand, you plant acres of seeds and come what may. Whether they produce male or female flowers has no bearing on the quality of fibers. And furthermore, who has time to wander through a hemp field at the cusp of flowering season to pull out the females?

On a side note, I always wondered why the D.E.A. never figured this one out. Though I’m grateful that they didn’t. But if they’d flown over Northern California with a couple dozen bushels of male hemp flowers, they could have ruined billions of dollars worth of top shelf ganja.

After all, the hemp can pollenate the marijuana, and a seedy crop would be worth only a fraction of its value. Once the females are pollenated and go to seed, their frantic production of resin and hyper-developed calyxes goes way down. Not only that, the seeds would be of no real use either, just unwanted hybrids of high grade weed and industrial grade hemp.

Breeding and selection

If we get back to the canine analogy, we can understand even more about cannabis. Consider the origins of domesticated house dogs. In former times, our ancestors lived among wolves. Over time they noticed that some wolves were gentler and more agreeable than others. By selecting those wolves and interbreeding them, they slowly developed a new strain of wolf that was somewhat more loyal and obedient.

With more time and effort, wolf keepers and dog breeders learned to look for and select other characteristics. Over the centuries dogs became very domesticated. And in just the past 200 years, breeders have used artificial selection to create the few hundred dog breeds that we have today.

We can tell this same story about other house pets and most of our cultivated crops. So many of our green vegetables, for example, are actually Brassica oleracea. But after centuries of artificial selection, we have taken this naturally occurring specimen and produced broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower, all from a single species.

Cannabis cultivars

The story of cannabis cultivation goes back thousands of years, to the earliest farmers in China and the Far East. Like any other species of plant or animal that we have domesticated, people first discovered the untamed, common ancestor of hemp and marijuana growing in the wild.

With a little prehistoric trial and error—a combination of curiosity and ingenuity—early humans began to discover the manifold properties of the cannabis plant. Those inclined toward weaving and basketry noticed the strength and utility of its fibrous stalks.

Meanwhile, the practitioners of herbal medicine appreciated its fine aroma, especially as its leaves and flowers smoldered over the fire. And before long, they’d be lying on their backs, gazing up at the stars, listening to the crackling sounds coming from their own dry mouths.

From there, we can find the first major fork in the family tree of cannabis. You might say that one took the low road and one took the high road.

One small step for plant

Weavers and craftspeople selected those specimens with the longest, strongest stalks and fibers, and propagated them. And the witch doctors and astrologers sought out the plants with the stickiest, smelliest and most resinous flowers.

Of course, this is an oversimplification of a very long and slow process. What happened must have taken place over the course of centuries through a combination of accidents and inexact science. Naturally, some cultures may have been more selective than others. And in all likelihood, different varieties would have already been more commonly occurring in certain climates and regions.

One great leap for plant kind

Fast forward to the 19th century. The agricultural revolution has transformed the relationship between people and their natural resources. Also, the industrial revolution has transformed the way people process their resources and turn them into products.

In the 1790s, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin changed the face of the cotton industry, making it ten times faster and easier to process the plant, separating seeds from lint. More than just faster and easier, cotton also became astronomically more profitable. The industry skyrocketed, leaving hemp and flax (linen) somewhere in the shadows.

But a century later, the invention of the decorticator did something similar for hemp. This new machine greatly sped up the process of breaking the hemp stalks and loosening up their fibers. And we can see how this resulted in two things.

On the one hand, hemp’s viability as a textile crop took another leap forward, renewing its competitive edge against cotton. Also, the use of heavy machinery made it more necessary to work with hemp varieties containing less resin. In other words, the more fibrous and less psychoactive hemp was encouraged to be made even less psychoactive.

The prohibition of hemp and marijuana

It’s impossible to explain the relationship between hemp and marijuana without discussing the story of cannabis prohibition. After all, many laws see hemp and marijuana as the same thing. And when we look at the history, it appears that much of this confusion was actually quite intentional.

One step forward, two steps back

With the publication of The Emperor Wears No Clothes in 1985, Jack Herer told the story of hemp prohibition as it had never been told before. So much of what we know about hemp today is a direct result of Herer’s painstaking research and activism.

Essentially, Herer was able to connect the dots between a burgeoning petrochemical industry, a yellow journalism empire, a faltering bureaucracy for alcohol prohibition, and the demise of industrial hemp.

In 1919, Dow Chemical received a patent for pulping wood for paper by means of a new sodium-sulfite process. At the time, hemp was timber’s number one competition for paper making. Dow had the chemicals, and William Hearst, the newspaper mogul, owned the trees. Dow Chemical, in the 1920s, also began experimenting with nylon, which would be another fierce competitor with hemp.

In the meantime, the U.S. federal government was creating a huge law enforcement bureaucracy to maintain alcohol prohibition, an idea whose days were numbered.

A forces coalesced, it was clear that the chemical, textile and lumber industries had a great interest in eliminating hemp. At the same, Henry Anslinger and his law enforcement cronies were looking for a new class of inebriated criminal to persecute. And Hearst, who had already used his newspapers to incite the Spanish American War 25 years earlier, had all the tools of propaganda at his disposal.

Reefer Madness

Through the 1920s and 30s, the pages of Hearst papers across the country wailed with horror stories of stoned out Mexicans and jazz enthusiasts on rape and murder sprees. A horrified public, who had so recently rallied behind the movement to outlaw alcohol, was ready to do the same with marijuana.

Interestingly, we can even thank Hearst and his newspapers for giving us the word marijuana. (Back then they often spelled it marihuana.) Surely, they had other slang terms for cannabis at the time, but it was the Hearst empire’s master stroke to bring the Spanish name for Mary Jane into common usage. Just a few years after driving Spain out of Cuba, anti-hispanic racism was at an all-time high.

Smoke and mirrors

So the gullible, newspaper-reading public jumped on board, and the Marihuana Tax Act passed in 1937. Henry Anslinger held his post as the first commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (later to be called the Drug Enforcement Agency or D.E.A.) for 32 years. And unbeknownst to most everyone, the chemical and tree-pulping industries got just what they wanted, and a whole industry was swept away.

With the passage of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, it became prohibitively expensive to cultivate cannabis. And without registering under the act, it was simply illegal to grow or possess cannabis. So the tax act effectively became a criminal law. And for the next 60 or 80 years, hemp and marijuana shared their illegal classification.

Hemp revival

Following the publication of Herer’s book, a cottage industry sprouted up in America, promising that hemp could save the planet. Beginning in the late 1990s, supporters started holding hemp rallies at federal building and on court house lawns. A few fringe members of society even set up businesses importing, producing and selling hemp products. For the first time in several decades, products clearly labeled as cannabis hemp were becoming available to American consumers.

All of which led people to ask, is this even legal? And why or why not? In fact, hemp products were probably always legal. But there was definitely some uncertainty surrounding the matter.

When I got into the hemp business in 1991, it was illegal to grow hemp anywhere in the U.S. But it was legal to import hemp fiber, hemp fabric and finished hemp products. So you could find hemp product made in the U.S.A., but the hemp was grown usually in China or Eastern Europe. Hemp seeds were also legal, so long as they had been sterilized, most often through a heat or irradiation process.

Hemp education

Basically there were two purposes for getting involved in the American hemp industry at that time. On the one hand, we wanted to bring hemp back to the forefront of American agriculture and industry. Even if it couldn’t save the planet, it could play a role in getting the world on track towards a more sustainable way of thinking, farming and manufacturing.

Secondly, we recognized a need to educate the public about the great many uses of hemp and its long fascinating history. Nearly a century of misinformation had created an environment of confusion and misguided governance. And as a bi-product of this education, we felt confident that people would be forced to reconsider their attitudes on marijuana once they learned more about cannabis hemp.

But at first, it seemed like the campaign to educate was producing more confusion than clarity. After remaining in the dark for all those decades, the cloudy questions came wafting out from behind the curtain like smoke through the sliding window of an old VW bus.

If it’s not marijuana, then why is it illegal? If it’s illegal, then how can you sell it? So what do they do with all the leaves and flowers after they separate the stalks? Can I smoke these pants? Or did I ask that already? And by the way, do you know where I can score a satchel?

It was a slow, uphill battle, but gradually people began to understand. And they took pride in their hemp wallets. And their hemp jeans held up like iron. And no satchels, but the hemp backpacks sure got some good mileage.

Is hemp still illegal?

Yes, U.S. federal law still considers hemp and marijuana to be the same thing. That is, until quite recently, hemp and marijuana were lumped together as a Schedule 1 drug.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act went into effect and named cannabis a Schedule 1, along with crystal meth, cocaine, LSD and heroin, to name a few. By definition, a Schedule 1 drug has high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

Only with the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 did the federal government finally remove certain hemp products from the Controlled Substances Act.

State laws vs. Federal laws

You’ve probably heard that most of the country has decriminalized marijuana or legalized it for medical or even recreational purposes. These are state laws and they still contradict federal law. But for the time being, the feds are choosing to look the other way, while the states and their glassy-eyed residents do as they please. Perhaps the day is not far off when the U.S. penal code finally accepts the fact that marijuana’s worst side effect is criminal incarnation.

Thanks to the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also known as 2018 U.S. farm bill, industrial hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC is now an ordinary agricultural commodity. Hemp farmers across the country have access to water rights, federal agricultural grants, and the national banking system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced this legislation, which had already passed with some popularity in his home state of Kentucky.

As of 2019, industrial hemp farming is finally making a comeback in the U.S. Currently, the states of Montana and Colorado are leading the way, along with Oregon, Kentucky and Tennessee.

On the cutting edge of cannabis

Since the psychedelic revolution of the 1960, the hybridization and artificial selection for high-THC cannabis has surged ahead at a mind rattling pace. As hippies ventured around the world on their soul-searching sojourns, they kept returning to California with exotic seeds of Panama Red, Colombia Gold, Thai Stick and the coveted Afghani.

The south Asian strains of Afghanistan and the Indian highlands are commonly known as Cannabis indica. But it’s not clear whether the indica varieties actually belong to a different species. Clearly, sativa and indica strains are capable of cross pollenating, and with some rather astonishing results.

Shorter and bushier in character, indica genetics have no place in an industrial hemp crop. But some amount of indica is highly desirable in most marijuana varieties. Whether for medicinal use or pure recreation, indica tends to produce the more sedated effects. Turn on the black light and turn up the Pink Floyd. Sativa, on the other hand, will get the heart racing and send you hiking into the woods or painting a mural in your living room.

Cannabinoids

Some say that cannabis plants contain a total of 420 diverse cannabinoids, or active compounds. It sounds good, and it would explain the bumper stickers. But it’s hogwash. A more scientifically accurate number would be around 120. And a benefit of hybridizing different strains of sativa and indica is to get more of these cannabinoids working in harmony.

The most important cannabinoid, as far as psychotropic side effects are concerned, must be THC. As mentioned above, this is the compound they test for when distinguishing between industrial hemp and mind-altering Mary Jane.

But the psychoactive landscape is far more complex than simply the fluctuating levels of THC. Of the 100+ compounds, several of them are considered important, but all of them add a little shade of color to the overall rainbow. Even though many of these cannabinoids are not actually psychoactive on their own.

THC typically occurs in the highest levels, and is the principal psychoactive constituent of marijuana. We might say that it’s responsible for the Jimi Hendrix effect, capable of rocking your world. CBN is another constituent, appearing in trace amounts, usually in older or low grade cannabis. We could say it produces the Doobie Brothers effect, something hardly noticeable.

And these days everyone is talking about CBD, reputed for its medicinal properties, although not exactly psychoactive per se. Studies show that CDB can be very beneficial for pain, anxiety and other conditions. And I like to think of it as producing the Crosby Stills & Nash effect. It doesn’t make you loopy, but it sure sounds nice.

Can a low-THC hemp plant produce significant levels of medicinal CBD?

If industrial hemp has less than one percent THC, and plants with more THC are considered marijuana, then you might ask, what about CBD?

Now that recreational and medicinal cannabis are legal across more than half of the country, maybe it’s not such a pressing question. But cannabis genetics can get confusing, and so can the laws. So I’d like to know. Where is all this CBD oil coming from?

Those obsessive pot breeders who have spent the last 40 years getting THC levels from 3 percent to 30 percent, are now changing course. They aren’t giving up on THC, but to satisfy a new market, they are bringing back older strains with lower THC and higher CBD. Because it’s impossible to grow cannabis that’s very high in both.

In fact, the highest levels of CDB, up to 30 percent, occur in cannabis varieties with negligible amounts of THC, like hemp. But there’s a third category that has balanced quantities of CBD and THC, and these strains are the source of most commercial CBD oil.

Hemp flowers for CBD

With the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, industrial hemp cultivation is now legal at the federal level. While a handful of states have yet to lift the prohibition, most of the country is moving forward quickly to make the most of this incredible crop.

And one of the greatest economic incentives right now is CBD oil. Currently a billion dollar a year industry, many expect CBD to grow as much as twenty-fold by the year 2020. Researchers and farmers are working hard to develop and identify strains that produce the most CBD while still falling below the 0.3% THC level to qualify as industrial hemp.

CBD producers are even growing hemp very similarly to marijuana. Because the CBD is produced in the cannabis flower (just like THC), it’s more advantageous to only grow female plants. So many hemp growers are now seeking feminized seeds, more likely to produce female plants. They are also growing from clones, cuttings taken from female plants that are guaranteed to be female.

If these practices continue, cultivating bushy hemp plants to produce the largest possible flowers, it might indeed become very difficult to distinguish low-THC hemp from high-potency marijuana.

Is hemp oil the same as CBD oil?

Hemp oil and CBD oil are actually two very different things. But unfortunately, a lot of sloppy marketing material has created a whole new wave of cannabis confusion. Hemp oil, sold as a nutritional supplement high in minerals and fatty acids, is actually oil from the hemp seed. (High-grade marijuana, to be clear, consists only of female flowers and does not produce seeds.)

CBD oil, by contrast, is extracted from cannabis flowers. In the absence of THC, CBD does not itself produce any psychoactive side effects. Yet it does have a long list of medicinal benefits.

What does the future of cannabis look like?

It’s impossible to say, but I think that legalization is definitely going to open the doors to some surprising innovations in both hemp and marijuana. From industrial products like paper, textiles and insulation; to nutritional supplements like hemp nut and hemp oil; and a full spectrum of medicinal products.

Currently, the promise of low-THC hemp to produce medicinal CBD for pain and anxiety is the most interesting thing on the horizon. Will this lead to a gold rush for farmers looking to avoid conventional pharmaceuticals and the risk of getting high? Will the distinction between industrial and medicinal grow hazy? Who knows how all this will unfold.

We should expect to see a fantastic array of new cannabis offerings. But as with any new and changing industry, we need to stay and informed and be wary of things that are not what they seem. As discerning consumers, it’s up to us to hold cannabis to the highest standards so that it can live up to its greatest potential.

Further reading

To learn more about hemp and bamboo as a viable natural resources, check out some of our other popular articles.

Hemp Laws in all 50 U.S. States Hemp vs. Bamboo: The ultimate comparison What’s so great about Bamboo?
Hemp and bamboo the ultimate comparison

In the arena of natural alternative resources, two towering crops dominate the field. In some ways strikingly different, but with a great deal in common, hemp and bamboo have each risen to prominence in recent decades. And because of their similarities, the temptation to draw comparisons between hemp and bamboo is often irresistible.

Before launching California’s first all-bamboo boutique in 2006, I helped to open and operate two of California’s first hemp stores back in the early 90s. So I’ve had more conversations about the miracles of hemp, the benefits of bamboo and the dangers of pesticide-rich cotton than just about anybody. And I’ve had the pleasure of handling and using more hemp and bamboo products than most anyone I know.

I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of hearing an astonishing number of misconceptions. But one thing is for sure, I never get tired of talking and writing about it. And when I do, the question always comes up: which one is better?

Hemp or bamboo: Which is better?

Proponents of hemp and bamboo have both made some pretty bold and superlative claims over the years. Of course, I share their enthusiasm. But sometimes these claims wander into the territory of exaggeration.

Any in case, we hear it said that one is a miracle crop, and one can save the planet. Hemp grows like a weed, and yet bamboo is supposed to be the fastest growing plant on earth. So which one is better?

It’s not an easy comparison to make, and I’m generally reluctant to do so. At the same time, it is a question that comes up often. And it can make for some pretty interesting conversation. So let’s have a look at some of the benefits and properties of both hemp and bamboo.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES Ancient History

Before we start splitting hairs and sorting fibers, let’s examine the rich and fascinating history of each plant. I’ve heard it said that cannabis hemp was the first non-food crop to be cultivated by man. And I’ve heard the same claim regarding bamboo.

In fact, both plants are edible—hemp for seed and bamboo for tender young shoots—but this wasn’t the primary reason for their cultivation. Rather, its their versatility and ease of use that made them so desirable.

Like many so many things, hemp and bamboo both originated in China. The same is true of printing, gun powder and Confucianism, but not cotton. But as their uses date back many millennia, its difficult to say which came into widespread use first.

Evidence of hemp yarns and textiles in China traces back to about 5000 BC. And according to Professor Tengwen Long, there are signs of hemp flowers from an archeological site on the Oki Islands dating to 8000 BC.

Bamboo appears to be equally ancient. Asians from the late stone age were probably using bamboo for weapons and building materials several thousand years ago. But if I had to guess, I would think that hunters would have discovered bamboo as the ideal material for spears back when they were still stalking mastodons in the ice age. Long, straight and simple to sharpen. So easy, even a neanderthal could do it! (Can we put that on a t-shirt?)

Either way, it’s not a contest over which came into use first. Clearly, both plants have a long history and played an important part in early human civilization.

Hemp’s Colorful Past

Part of what makes hemp so interesting, or controversial, is its consanguinity with what we call marijuana. While some varieties of cannabis are ideal for material use, to make fibers and textiles, others are cultivated for their psychoactive resin.

Today we refer to the former as hemp, and the latter as marijuana. But originally, feral cannabis plants of Asia had both properties. There was no real distinction. It seems like those from the mountainous regions of India and Afghanistan may have been a bit more resinous. And the cannabis plants from the prairies and grasslands were a bit more fibrous.

As hunters and gatherers became more and more agrarian, they learned to domesticate their crops. As they did so, they selected and cultivated different strains for different characteristics. It was around this time that fibrous hemp and sticky ganja split into their separate branches on the family tree of cannabis.

Even so, the distinction was rarely 100 percent clear. As farmers began cultivating hemp on an industrial scale, using heavier machinery, the absence of resin became very desirable. The sticky stuff would gum up the machinery and slow down production.

Meanwhile, those who favored the THC-rich resin for medicinal and recreational purposes were not consuming the sort of strains we have today. Since the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s, the “domestication” and hybridization of psychoactive cannabis has achieved truly mind-blowing results.

Hemp Prohibition

As you can see, it’s impossible to discuss the history of hemp without digressing into a nuanced exploration of marijuana and its kaleidoscopic side effects. And that requires a further explanation of hemp prohibition, which went into effect in the 1930s.

In 1937, the US government passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which effectively outlawed both hemp and marijuana in one decisive stroke. Reefer madness and other propaganda efforts of the early 20th century convinced lawmakers and the American public of the need to eradicate marijuana. So that was it for cannabis sativa.

But most historians agree that the elimination of an entire industry was no accident. When hemp farms and factories across the country all ceased to operate, it was a great boon to the lumber paper making industry, the burgeoning petrochemical industry and king cotton.

Historical Significance

As far as the comparison between hemp and bamboo, they each have a long history that stretches back into prehistoric times. But hemp’s relationship with marijuana certainly makes it interesting. Depending which side you’re on, this could count in hemp’s favor, or it may count against it.

In any case, it does underscore the need for clarification. The fact is that hemp and marijuana are easy enough to differentiate. Most industrial nations, throughout Asia and Europe, continued growing industrial hemp even while prohibiting marijuana. Regulators in those countries had no difficulty restricting industrial hemp to cannabis varieties with less than 1% THC (the primary psychoactive compound).

Furthermore, many of us feel that hemp deserves an extra boost simply to make up for nearly 80 years of prohibition. Hemp was already achieving marvelous things in the 1930s. If America had continued to cultivate, manufacture and innovate with cannabis hemp through the latter two-thirds of the 20th century, who knows what incredible products would be available today.

SUSTAINABILITY & ECOLOGY OF HEMP & BAMBOO

The long history of these plants and their remarkably widespread use have everything to do with the way they grow. Hemp and bamboo both grow easily and prolifically. Unlike felling trees for lumber, utilizing these plants does not result in deforestation. In fact, greater reliance on hemp and bamboo can save trees and forests.

Also, as an alternative to cotton, hemp and bamboo both grow very easily without pesticides and herbicides. Cotton is one of the most chemical-intensive crops cultivated by man. When grown in monoculture, cotton becomes very susceptible to pests and disease.

But let’s no paint with too broad a brush. It’s important to remember that there are thousands of varieties of bamboo, and that dozens of countries are growing bamboo under all sorts of conditions. Similarly, hemp is cultivated and processed in many different ways. Also, organic cotton continues to grow in popularity. But even the term “organic” can mean a lot of different things when it comes to commercial agriculture.

Overall though, hemp and bamboo are both very fast growing and resistant to pests. Hemp is an annual crop. That means it is planted early in the year, harvested late in the year and replanted the following year. In most cases farmers will rotate hemp with things like beans, wheat, or alfalfa, to keep the soil healthy.

Replanting hemp in the same field for more than three of four consecutive seasons can make the crop susceptible to pests and disease. Otherwise, the plant is very resilient. For this reason hemp can easily grown without toxic pesticides or herbicides. In fact, it grows like a weed. Most crops will get taller than a house by the end of the growing season.

While hemp may be considered a weed, bamboo is actually a perennial grass. This means you don’t have to replant it. In most cases, gardeners have the opposite problem. Bamboo’s rhizome roots spread so quickly that it can be difficult to contain. But after harvesting bamboo, it grows right back. Like the grass that might grow in your front yard, it comes back stronger and healthier after a good trimming.

Also, bamboo naturally grows this way, in huge swaths. In other words, a natural bamboo forest will look almost identical to a cultivated bamboo farm. The bamboo grows thick, crowding out other weeds and plants, and its fallen leaves are enough to nourish the soil.

So, like hemp, bamboo grows big and strong, without the need for fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. In fact, bamboos are among the fastest growing plants on earth. It’s common for commercial varieties to grow a foot a day in the growing season. And tropical varieties, in ideal conditions, can grow 2 or 3 times that much. Only certain types of seaweed grow faster.

So in terms of renewability and sustainability, I’d say it’s a draw. Both plants grow voraciously without the need for heavy spraying. And both crops can recapture sizable amounts of carbon, critical in the battle against climate change. Hemp has the advantage of rotating nicely with other food crops. While bamboo—if managed responsibly—can be harvested from natural forests in the wild, with minimal disruption to habitat.

VERSATILITY OF HEMP & BAMBOO

Even those who don’t fully appreciate the sustainability and renewability are pretty amazed when they set foot in shop filled almost entirely with products made from a single plant. Whether it’s a hemp store or a bamboo store, you can find everything from socks and underwear to furniture, toiletries, housewares and paper products.

I can’t think of many plants that can serve as the primary material for a whole department store. But I’ve done it twice, once with hemp and once with bamboo. If there’s another crop that can rival these two for versatility, I ‘d sure like to know about it.

Natural Fiber Clothing

For many, the most surprising and impressive use of hemp and bamboo is for fabric and textiles. But in fact, people have been spinning and weaving with hemp fibers for thousands of years. For centuries, hemp provided the ropes and riggings for all the major sailor fleets around the world.

Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, hemp and linen were the two most widespread textile crops. The first American flags were hemp, and our Founding Fathers famously grew hemp.

The advantages have always been the same. Hemp grows very easily, and it requires only the simplest machinery for processing. Containing some of natures longest and strongest fibers, hemp makes the sturdiest rope and some of the most durable fabric. For a heavy-duty canvas or denim, hemp is ideal. But it can also be woven into something softer, or blended with cotton for a lighter hand.

The use of bamboo is equally ancient. But bamboo fabrics are actually a very recent development, from the last couple of decades. And when it first appeared, natural fiber enthusiasts were just blown away. Having grown accustomed to the somewhat rough feel of hemp fabric, the sumptuous softness of bamboo came as a sheer delight.

Indeed, the comfort of bamboo socks, underwear and t-shirts well surpasses those made from hemp. And the drape of a bamboo sundress or nightgown is something heavenly. And then, for real luxury, the bamboo towels and bedsheets are just unbeatable.

There’s a reason, however, that bamboo fabric came so late on the scene. There is a processing stage to extrude the cellulose out of bamboo and reconstitute it into thread. This viscose extraction relies mainly on caustic soda, which is basically lye. And while it’s far from the worst of industrial bi-products, its use and disposal are something of a concern.

I’m convinced that compared to cotton, the sustainability of farming bamboo still makes it a superior resource, despite the viscose process. And even organic cotton goes through a processing stage. But compared to hemp, I’m not so sure.

In the end, it’s hemp for durability (jeans, backpacks, rope and twine) and bamboo for softness (undergarments, t-shirts, towels and bedsheets). After all, as much as we admire the versatility, we aren’t looking for a single plant to do everything.

Bamboo Building Materials

As a building material, I won’t hesitate to recommend bamboo. Hard, flexible and hollow, bamboo poles are incredibly easy to work with. I’ve made my own stools and picture frames. And with some basic carpentry skills, you can produce all manner of furniture and accent pieces.

Today there is almost no limit to what can be built from bamboo. The flooring is everywhere, but bamboo houses and bicycles are catching on fast.

Still, let’s not ignore hemp as a building material. In 1941, Henry Ford built a car from hemp plastic, stronger than steel. Hemp ethanol also fueled the car. It wasn’t long after after this that industrial hemp basically disappeared. Another victory for big oil and US steel.

I’m not sure how they measure up against bamboo, but keep an eye out for hemp houses. And after all, the greenest construction should incorporate as many different sustainable materials as possible.

Nutritional Properties of Hemp

Bamboo shoots are a delicious treat that people have been enjoying for millennia. Young and tender, they are also loaded with protein, minerals and fiber. But still, they are no match for the precious oil inside a hemp seed.

Not to be confused with CBD oil, hash oil, or other psychoactive cannabis oil products, hempseed oil has some incredible nutritional properties. Naturally rich in minerals and antioxidants, hempseed oil also contains an ideal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This makes the oil an excellent supplement for better skin and a healthier heart.

You can find all manner of natural skin care products, including soaps, shampoos and lotions made with a hempseed oil base. They’re wonderful for nourishing and moisturizing the skin.

Hemp nut has also been gaining popularity in health food stores. These are hemp seeds with the hard shell removed. Roasted hemp seeds are still tasty with a little salt or seasoning, especially if you like something crunchy. But the high protein (approximately 25 percent by weight) meat from inside the hull is much softer and easier to enjoy once the shell is removed. Try it as a delicious additive on salads or in your granola.

Magical Properties

The fact that cannabis sativa is the source of both industrial hemp and psychoactive marijuana makes it something of a magical plant. Even as we focus on the plant’s properties as a natural resource, it’s impossible to overlook its therapeutic qualities.

And it’s difficult to say which property was discovered first. I’m sure that botanists and anthropologists stay up late at night quibbling over this question, long after the well-worn Allman Brothers LP has begun skipping on the turntable.

But seriously, there’s always been and there always will be a tremendous demand for anything that can provide the kind of effects produced by THC, alcohol and other mind-altering substances.

The same cannot be said of bamboo. But it’s clear that this plant holds a unique and magical place in Asian culture. Because of its remarkable abundance and usefulness in providing food, tools and shelter, bamboo appears constantly in artwork and folklore.

Just try to imagine an Oriental landscape brushwork without a dash of bamboo in the background, or the foreground. It’s unthinkable. And you can be equally sure that the artist was painting with a bamboo brush.

What I find truly enchanting, however, is bamboo’s role in Eastern mythology. It seems that every Asian culture has its own story about the part that bamboo played in the creation of the world or the birth of mankind. There’s something endearing about the idea that the first man and woman sprung from the hollow space inside a bamboo pole.

Furthermore, bamboo’s characteristics of resilience, flexibility and emptiness conform nicely to the virtues of Eastern philosophy. It is important to be strong but not rigid. One must be able to bend in the breeze without breaking. And it’s essential to keep the ego in check while connecting with the empty void inside.

Conclusions

As eager as we may be to compare one plant to another and select a clear winner, the process just isn’t that simple. The fact is, hemp and bamboo both have tremendous benefits and advantages as natural resources. And if we compare them to the leading competitors—namely cotton, lumber and petroleum—they both come out way ahead.

But if we are looking for one wonder plant and panacea that can do it all, then we’re still stuck in the wrong kind of thinking. And what we need, more than anything, is a new kind of thinking. Hemp and bamboo are both fantastic alternatives, and we should be using them more and more. But equally important to what we use, is how we use it.

If we go cutting down tropical rain forests to set up giant bamboo plantations, then we’ve learned nothing. If you buy a new pair of hemp pants every week and stuff them in your closet with a hundred other outfits you never wear, then you’re not helping.

Sustainability is more than something you can point to in a certain crop or a single product. Sustainability is a way of thinking, living, and prioritizing. It means taking care of yourself, in order to help your community, in order to improve the earth. Just think about it, and make responsible choices.

If you have a local farm with seasonal produce and respectable farming practices, support it whenever possible. If you can avoid shopping at Walmart or buying palm oil, then by all means, do so. Or if you can patch a hole and make a pair of pants last another year, do it.

And if you have to choose between ordering a bamboo product on Amazon or a hemp product from a local mom and pop, or vice versa, just think about it. In the end, those decisions will make more difference than whether you can get this many tons of fiber from so many hectares of land.

Further reading

To learn more about the multifaceted world of alternative resources and natural fibers, check out some of our other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? Bamboo symbolism in legends and folklore Q & A: 12 Common questions about bamboo Sustainable Ag and the trouble with monoculture
Whats so great about bamboo

What are we supposed to think when something that’s been around for five thousand years suddenly turns trendy? Yoga reaches the west, and it’s like something brand new. The paleo diet gets resurrected from the ice age, and it’s the culinary panacea. (Although I’m personally more fond of fermented foods, which also harken back to the stone age.) And then, of course, we have bamboo. It’s the coolest thing to come off the farm since frozen peas.

No doubt, bamboo is anything but new. Asians have been cultivating bamboo for food, shelter and everything else since before westerners had even developed written language. Old school indeed.

But not everything crosses the globe as fast as the avian flu. Like yoga, meditation and kimchi, it seems that bamboo needed a few millennia to marinate and ferment on the Asian continent. Only then would it be ready for mass consumption in the east.

And it stands to reason. The Asians have always had a strong reputation for their patience and their ability to take the long view. Not like the Americans, with our insatiable appetites for instant gratification.

“Beware the sleeping dragon, for when she awakes the Earth will shake.” Winston Churchill was referring to China when he issued this warning. But he could have just as easily been referring to any Chinese export, be it Buddhism, Beanie Babies, or bamboo.

Certainly, it hasn’t taken long for bamboo to rise from its epic slumber. And in just a decade or two, it has sent a tremor through the foundations of the lumber, cotton and hemp industries. She appeared like a dragon, and today bamboo is everywhere.

Why bamboo?

The history of bamboo and its long list of benefits could fill an encyclopedia. Its uses, its properties, and its revered status in Asian are the stuff of myth and legend. Quite literally. But it’s all very factual at the same time. So let’s review the data.

Bamboo for sustainability

One of the biggest buzz words surrounding bamboo in the course of its recent resurgence has been “sustainability.” Here’s another concept that’s turned a bit trendy, and thank goodness for that.

Instead of simply reaping and pillaging the earth’s resources as quickly and thoroughly as possible, for the purpose of instant gain and maximum profit, sustainability emphasizes another model. Before the era of instant breakfasts and mass production, hunters and farmers understood their relationship with the earth to be more of a give and take.

After a relentless century or two of taking and taking, sustainability proposes to make giving great again. Prioritizing sustainability means taking the long view. It means recognizing the need to preserve our planet’s resources and harvest them in a way that ensures that they won’t run out.

Clearcutting forests to graze livestock or mono-crop palm trees is not sustainable. But cultivating plants that are readily renewable and give something back to the soil is.

Bamboo for cleaner air and a healthier earth

Bamboo is a perfect example of giving something back. Unlike most commercial crops, bamboo can be cultivated without a massive disruption to the local habitat. Bamboo naturally grows in vast forests. It takes very little from the soil, and its fallen leaves are enough to replenish the nutrients.

Moreover, bamboo is an excellent crop for carbon sequestration. In the same way that that the plant grows quickly, it also captures carbon dioxide more quickly, converting it into precious oxygen. What’s more, bamboo acts as an excellent carbon sink, storing the carbon underground. That’s because even as bamboo is harvested, the plant and its elaborate root system live on. (When tree are cut down, by contrast, great quantities of carbon are released into the atmosphere.)

In the fight against global warming, this is key. And as policy makers become increasingly aware of this fact, they are encouraging more farmers, especially in developing countries like India to use bamboo.

In fact, bamboo is so beneficial that conservationists are planting it across Africa and Asia to promote better soil health. Even when farmers aren’t harvesting bamboo for its myriad uses, the plant still makes itself useful. Bamboo’s robust root network, for example makes it ideal for holding the earth together, preventing erosion and landslides.

In other cases, bamboo can also loosen up degraded soil. In places where the landscape has been denuded, bamboo is proving effective in reviving the soil and restoring its fertility.

An alternative to monocropping

Most modern, commercial agriculture today is done with monocropping. That means taking hundreds or thousand of acres and planting them all with a single crop. Whatever used to live in that space—plant, animal or insect—is forcibly removed or exterminated. There’s a great loss to biodiversity for one thing. But that’s only the beginning.

Next, because the farm is devoted to just a single crop, the soil is going to be seriously depleted of certain nutrients. Also, any pests that enjoy nibbling on that crop are going to be having a field day. Typically, the solution to these two issues has been the heavy use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. In other words, they spray the vast acreage with toxic chemicals to kill off weeds and bugs and replenish basic ingredients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

In contrast to this all-too-common practice of industrial agriculture, cultivated bamboo forests can thrive and maintain most of their natural biodiversity. As mature bamboo stalks are harvested, generally those older than five years, the rest of the forest continues to flourish. There is no unnatural susceptibility to pests, or impoverishment of the soil, or need to eliminate native habitats.

Renewability

One great advantage of bamboo over other crops is its perpetual growth habit. Bamboo is a grass, after all. And a bit like the grass in your lawn, you can mow it and watch it grow right back. In fact, cutting your grass actually encourages it to grow more, faster and stronger. Likewise with bamboo.

In some cases, homeowners find this property of renewability to be something of a nuisance. The tenacity of a well-established bamboo plant makes it almost impossible to remove. (See our article on Bamboo Containment and Removal.)

While it might devastate your flower beds and even upend your plumbing, the indomitability of bamboo makes it a dream come true for farmers. Imagine, the cycle of planting and harvesting, planting and harvesting, has been reduced to just harvesting and harvesting. Bamboo doesn’t need to be replanted or rotated.

Bamboo truly grows like a weed. It’s not uncommon for some varieties to stretch a foot or two a day, or more, in the growing season. Not only is that good news for the farmer looking forward to another bumper crop. Bamboo’s high metabolism also makes it a boon for the atmosphere.

Compared to a stand of trees, an equal area of mature bamboo will produce about 35% more oxygen. That makes bamboo an excellent tool in the battle against greenhouse gases and climate change.

So can bamboo save the planet?

In the unending quest for instant gratification, a lot of people are looking for the silver bullet, the quick fix that will stop climate change in its tracks. But the kind of thinking that got us into this mess will not be the kind of thinking that gets us out of this mess. There is no single solution.

Planetary health is like your personal health. You can’t simply take a multivitamin every day and go from sick to healthy. And you can’t just rely on one plant to save the earth.

Of course, take your vitamins, and grow more bamboo, but that’s only part of the solution. Obviously, if we remove all the corn from the midwest and replace it with bamboo native to China, we will have learned nothing. As much as anything, we need a new way of thinking.

Where monoculture is the problem, the only solution must be a polyculture of many different plants and resources. The holistic cure for the earth will include the use of more sustainable crops like hemp, bamboo and flax. It will also require a rich mixture of renewable energy sources. Solar can’t do it all. Wind, geothermal and other innovations will have to play an important part in the healing process.

Versatility: the many uses of bamboo

I don’t believe that bamboo can save the planet single-handedly, but it certainly can do a great number of things. So when people see that bamboo is stronger than oak, softer than cotton, faster growing than hemp, and almost impossible to eradicate, it’s easy to see why they might look to it as the all-in-one answer.

Bamboo for lumber

When we think about the uses of bamboo, the first thing that probably comes to mind is its great potential as a timber alternative. Although technically a member of the grass family, bamboo looks and feels a lot more like wood.

When harvested mature and properly cured, it can be even harder than oak. So you’ve no doubt seen bamboo flooring used for a beautiful and functional effect. Also, bamboo cutting boards have become almost ubiquitous. And if bamboo can withstand the pressure of a thousand foot steps or the chopping of a cold steel cleaver, then what can’t it do?

In fact, bamboo has become a popular material for all manner of construction. Historically, bamboo has long been the first choice for scaffolding. You’ll still see it if you walk past a construction site anywhere in Asia. Compared to steel, it has comparable tensile strength and superior flexibility, and is remarkably easy to come by.

But today, modern architects around the world are taking bamboo to the next level. In Colombia, Simón Vélez has accomplished unthinkable things and built unbelievable temples and structures from bamboo. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, prefab bamboo houses have hit the market and revolutionized the way people think about green construction.

Straw bale is great and all. But once you’ve seen the sublime elegance of a bamboo home, you’ll gladly to save the hay for the horses.

And even if you saw some bamboo flooring in the hardware store ten years ago, you won’t believe what they can do with it today. The variety of grains is astonishing, and the quality just keeps getting better. Whether you’re looking for new floors, kitchen cabinets, or wainscoting for the man cave, bamboo can do it. And all without cutting down a single tree.

As the look of bamboo lumber continues to grow more refined, the face of bamboo furniture is also looking more sophisticated. Sure, the old-school bamboo and rattan poles strapped together still look cool, especially if you’re going for the tropical theme in a sunroom. But if you want something more clean and modern, the Gilligan’s Island ensemble isn’t going to cut it. Luckily, companies like Greenington Furniture in Washington are taking modern bamboo furnishings to a new heights.

Bamboo over cotton

Another recent bamboo innovation has taken the textile industry by storm. In the mid to late 90s, it looked like hemp was poised to become the next wonder fabric. But then along came bamboo, producing a marvelously soft fabric with unlimited applications.

Hemp continues to provide an excellent alternative for canvas and products that require durability, like jeans, shoes and backpacks, for example. But if you’re looking for a soft t-shirt, nightgown, or pair of undies, you can’t beat bamboo.

This remarkably soft material is also extremely absorbent, anti-bacterial, odor-resistant and temperature regulating. Some of the best and most popular uses of bamboo fabric include socks, t-shirts, towels and bed sheets. Honestly, there are few things I enjoy more than a high quality bamboo towel. A blend of half and half bamboo and cotton seems ideal for towels, for some reason.

And 100% bamboo bed sheets are the pinnacle of luxury. They’re silky soft without being slippery smooth and sliding off the bed like satin. They also manage to feel warm in the winter and stay cool in the summer, thanks to bamboo’s superior breathability.

Unlike hemp, bamboo textiles have not been around for thousands of years. This is a relatively new development. The process of making fabric from bamboo involves taking the entire plant—leaves, stalks and all—and pulping them in caustic soda. Caustic soda, also known as sodium hydroxide, is basically the same as lye, a standard ingredient in both commercial and homemade soap.

As the bamboo is reduced to a pulp, the cellulose is reconstituted into rayon type of material. Tencel©, viscose, lyocell and modal are all comparable cellulosic fibers. But from my experience, bamboo has a much different feel from any of those rayon shirts I was wearing back in the 80s. While rayon had a more synthetic feel, like nylon or polyester, bamboo is soft and breathable. It’s the perfect material on a hot day, or for a humid climate.

And once again, the way bamboo grows much it a far more sustainable and superior resource than conventional cotton, which is extremely pesticide and herbicide intensive. Commercial cotton cultivation requires a monoculture, row after row of cotton. And when cotton grows like this, it becomes very susceptible to pests like the the boll weevil. It is also very demanding on the soil.

Also, compared to other cellulose materials, which may share some of bamboo’s properties, bamboo’s sustainability simply cannot be surpassed. Today, most viscose and rayon fibers are produced from wood pulp. And we know that bamboo will grow back faster than any tree.

Additional uses of bamboo

Besides bamboo flooring and bamboo socks, which have gone fairly mainstream, their are a host of other uses, ranging from the every day to the more obscure. If you go out for sushi or Thai food, for example, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll be eating off of bamboo chopsticks. And since Asia and the rest of the world go through close to a billion pairs of chopsticks a day, it’s essential to make them from a renewable material. Better still to eat with more durable, reusable chopsticks or utensils.

Another item we use so often that we barely think about it, is the toothbrush. It’s not a single-use item, but most of us probably go through four or five toothbrushes in a year. And since the majority of toothbrushes are plastic, that means that mountains of discarded toothbrushes are forming all over the world.

Bamboo toothbrushes have grown very popular in the zero waste circles and among those of us looking for more sustainable forms of dental hygiene. The sleek bamboo is attractive, feels good in the hand, and will naturally biodegrade in a reasonable amount of time.

What’s more, many bamboo toothbrushes are now using bristles made from bamboo charcoal. Charcoal bristles?! Yes, it may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but bamboo charcoal has fantastic cleansing properties. Not only does it whiten the teeth, but it is also antibacterial and leaches toxins. They’re even making some excellent bamboo charcoal water filters for personal use.

One more item that’s really gaining traction, is the bamboo bicycle. In the developing world, it’s a concept that just makes perfect. Where material like steel is both scarce and expensive, bamboo makes an ideal substitute. In Ghana for example, a number of programs are working get more bamboo bicycles in the hands of students and young people. Those who could not afford the transportation to get to and from school are now zipping through cities and villages to get to class on their sturdy, lightweight bamboo bikes.

Meanwhile, in Europe and North America, high performance bamboo bikes are all the rage. Flexible, lightweight and esthetically pleasing, these bicycles make a bold pro-environmental statement, but also look very cool. Whether you’re looking for an off-road mountain bike or a sleek speedster for the city, there’s a bamboo bike to suit your needs.

The more you think about it, the list of things you can’t make from bamboo just gets shorter and shorter. And again, we’re not suggesting that we start making everything from bamboo and stop using anything else. There’s nothing balanced or sustainable about that. But if we can substitute a durable bamboo product for a single-use plastic item, or do something to scale back on the global use of agricultural spraying, then yes, by all means.

Rich in history and tradition

As we’ve seen, the versatility and sustainability of bamboo makes it something of an incredible plant. It’s certainly a natural resource that deserves to play a larger role on the world stage. But more than that, there is something truly special about bamboo that verges on the magical.

Bamboo’s long legacy

Even before the dawn of recorded history, Asians were certainly making use of bamboo. It is and has always been one of the most prolific plants in that part of the world. Also, one of the easiest to harvest and work with. Harvesting the young shoots to eat requires no tools. And the simplest of handsaws is enough to harvest the mature poles. And other tropical grasses provide the string and strapping to attach the poles. No doubt that primitive Neanderthals were making use of this plentiful resource and fashioning bamboo spears to hunt down their mastodons.

Historians have traced the cultivation of bamboo back about 7,000 years. That’s makes it one the oldest—if not the oldest—to be purposefully planted by man. Not surprising, given that it can be used for food, shelter, and weaponry, not to mention firewood.

An enchanted grass

A quick look at the fables and folklore of the east, and bamboo immediately stands out. Through China, India, Japan and southeast Asia, there are dozens of myths and legends in which bamboo features prominently. It is not unusual for bamboo to serve as the source of all life in some creation stories. Sometimes mankind sprouts from a bamboo shoot, and sometimes the creator bestows bamboo to man as the ultimate blessing.

Regardless of the exact role it plays in literature, it’s clear that bamboo holds a position of supernatural importance in Asian cultures. In artwork, both ancient and modern, a splash of bamboo in the foreground or off to the side, conveys a certain mood. More than likely, the painting was done with a bamboo brush.

In Chinese art there is a motif of the “Four Gentleman”. Referring to the Confucian model of a perfect gentleman, they cite four plants: the plum blossom, the orchid, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemum. These plants embody the highest standards of sublime beauty and refined elegance.

Chinese herbalists also look to bamboo for a variety of medicinal benefits. Shavings of young bamboo shoots are called Zhu ru. Cold and sweet to the taste, they are traditionally used to treat acute fevers and a number of other conditions, including deep coughing and vomiting. Bamboo leaves also contain flavonoids which can work as antioxidants to reduce inflammation, promote circulation, and inhibit allergy reactions.

And if you’ve ever walked through a forest of bamboo and listened to the canes knocking in the breeze, you know there’s nothing else quite like it. This grass that grows like a tree, with poles as strong as steel but hollow on the inside, is a truly wondrous thing. It’s no mystery why so many cultures and stories have associated it with something larger than life.

And today, as our earth faces threats and dangers which also appear larger than life, it’s time to turn to bamboo. This enchanted plant that’s been with us since time immemorial, a constant companion of our species, can play a vital role as we adapt the way we think, act and consume. Like bamboo, we are mere passengers on the mothership earth. It’s time for mankind to bend in the breeze and acknowledge that we too can be humble on the inside.

Further reading

If you’re mesmerized by the powerful potential of bamboo and want to know more about its colorful history and its manifold uses, please check out more articles from our blog.

Here’s a short list of some of our most popular articles.

8 Best books about bamboo The 20 best bamboo gardens in the world The best bamboo for construction Growing Bamboo: The complete how-to guide Bamboo symbolism in legends and folklore Bamboo Q & A: Ask the experts
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