Ever have a hard time getting to the bathroom in a foreign country? Sometimes they can be devilishly camouflaged, like this lavatory near Atitlan, Mexico. My brother found it just in time. The bamboo in Mexico is resplendent, but finding a bathroom can be priceless! Still, most of us associate bamboo more with Southeast Asia than with Meso America. So what kinds of bamboo actually grow in Mexico?
The warm climate of Mexico, and especially the humid subtropical setting in the south, is especially conducive to growing bamboo. In fact, botanists have identified 56 species of bamboo that occur only in Mexico. The native bamboos of Mexico include five distinct genera. Many other varieties of Asia bamboo have also been brought over and successful re-acclimated to the Latin American lifestyle.
Bamboo in Mexico
Of the 56 species of bamboo uniquely indigenous to Mexico, we can classify them in 5 different genera. Among these native Mexican bamboos are the members of five genera. These are Cryptochloa, Chusquea, Guadua, Olmeca, Otatea and Rhipidocladum.
These include quite a diversity of bamboos, from Cryptochloa strictiflora, a small (roughly 20 cm) bamboo that only grows in the high elevation rainforests, to Guadua aculeata, a giant timber bamboo commonly used for construction in the areas around the Gulf of Mexico.
Olmeca reflexa grows in lower elevation rainforests and is noteworthy for its soft, fleshy fruits that provide an interesting snack. Otatea acuminata, commonly known as Mexican weeping bamboo, native to the state of Oaxaca, is probably the best known variety among gardeners north of the border. This genus of clumping bamboo performs quite well in the southern parts of the US, from Florida to California.
Bamboo in Guatamala: Photo Correction
Before you get to the snarky comment below, allow me to correct myself. This priceless photo actually comes from Panajachel at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. In those days, my brother used to travel extensively in Mexico. He was in the folk art business.
At times, no one really knew where he was. He spent long periods of time in the deep jungles of Chiapas, fraternizing with the Zapatistas. And once in a while he would hop over the border to Guatemala. The Central American highlands have always been a good place to source exotic wood carvings and unusual, artisanal masks.
It must have been on once such excursion that he found himself in a thick grove of bamboo canes and manmade bamboo structures. There he was, communing with nature, when suddenly nature called upon him. Conveniently enough, the bamboo bathroom was there too, and for once, my brother turned out to be in the right place, at the right time.
This was a classic stroke of serendipity, the kind of thing we bamboo lovers live for. Perhaps there’s more bamboo in Guatemala and southern Mexico that we don’t even know about. If so, it seems to be pretty poorly advertised, like a lot of things in an overgrown jungle of an underdeveloped country. So please let us know if you come across any.
In the meantime, if it’s an unforgettable, international bamboo experience you’re looking for, please be sure to check out out fabulous article on the 20 best bamboo gardens in the world. It will surely inspire you to pack your bags and board the next plane for Tokyo, by way of Honolulu.
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