Bamboo Batu, Bambu Batu, what the heck’s a Batu anyway?
Since Bambu Batu first opened in 2006, a lot of people have come in asking, “What’s a Batu?” Now we also call the shop the House of Bamboo, so a lot of people guess that Batu means House. And a lot of people try to spell it Bamboo Batu.
I’m sorry to point it out, but I’m afraid they’re both wrong.
What’s in a name?
The phrase Bambu Batu actually comes from Malay, an Indonesian language spoken by nearly 300 million people, hence the exotic spelling. And it’s the name of a very specific variety of bamboo. The botanical name of that species is Dendrocalamus Strictus. But in English it’s more commonly referred to as Male Bamboo, Solid Bamboo, Iron Bamboo, or Calcutta Bamboo.
In Malay, the word Batu by itself means rock; so the literal translation of the name would be something like Rock Bamboo or Stony Bamboo. The fact is, this particular variety of bamboo is extremely hard and resilient to cracking. Oftentimes it is also solid, or very nearly solid, rather than being completely hollow like most types of bamboo that we are familiar with.
For all of these reason, Dendrocalamus Strictus is a top choice as a construction material and for building furniture. It also seems like a solid foundation on which to build a business. “And upon this rock I build my house.” Last but not least, the name Bambu Batu just rolls off the tongue so nicely. It’s pretty much impossible to say it without cracking a smile. Go ahead, try it.
What else do we know about this exotic very of bamboo that’s so much fun to pronounce?
Growing to heights of 60 feet or more, with canes up to 5″ in diameter, Bambu Batu is a giant clumper. This giant, tropical timber bamboo is native to southeast Asia and the Indonesian archipelago. It is widespread in India, but can also be found in Central America and Cuba. Young shoots are powdery bluish in color, but gradually turn green and then dark yellow or brown as they mature. It is considered the supreme variety for furniture and construction.
For a short time, it was a dream of mine to grow some Bambu Batu in my backyard. While many varieties of bamboo grow commonly throughout California and are widely available in nurseries, Dendrocalamus Strictus remains pretty difficult to come by, even from large online bamboo dealers. I suppose it would be different if I lived in Vietnam or maybe Colombia, but California is not the climate for this species.
Furthermore, despite its impressive size, and the fact that it’s a clumper rather than a runner, Bambu Batu doesn’t seem to be the most desirable strain. This massive bamboo is not nearly as attractive as some other timber varieties, like the Vivax for example. So in the end, I put the idea to rest, and settled for several other species that would be much happier growing on California’s central coast. By the way, if you’re trying to pick some out for yourself, check out this great article on selecting the best bamboo varieties for your garden.
Finally, if you’re planning to build a House of Bamboo, the Bambu Batu might be your best bet. But if you’re looking to plant a garden, you better maybe think twice, And then remember to ask for it by name, Dendrocalamus Strictus.
Featured Image: Bambu Batu owners Jon and Anna, in downtown San Luis Obispo.