Brush with bamboo toothbrushes

It’s not that I don’t take my oral health seriously, but generally speaking, I have a pretty hard time getting fired up about dental hygiene. And yet, when it comes to sustainable and renewable alternatives to ordinary instruments, my zero-emission engine really gets revving. That’s why the recent wave of bamboo toothbrushes has got me (and thousands like me) bristling with excitement!

In a world of cut-throat salesmanship and a never ending supply of irrational needs to justify the invention of unnecessary products, the idea of a zero-waste and fully compostable bamboo toothbrush is a refreshing sight indeed. Put me on a desert island with an ample supply of tropical fruit and no access to wi-fi, and there are a million and one things I can easily do without. But a good toothbrush is not one of them. So it’s about time some brilliant engineers put their wisdom teeth together and started designing some even better toothbrushes.

Now let’s open wide and take a closer look and see what we can come up with when we apply a little sustainable ingenuity to this age-old implement of personal care. 

What makes a great toothbrush?

It’s quite simple really. There are just two things you need in a toothbrush: a handle on one end and some bristles on the other. The problem is, for the few decades of my life, I never had the opportunity to use a single toothbrush that wasn’t made from plastic. And considering that most toothbrushes last for just a few months, that means I’m personally responsible for something between 100-200 discarded plastic toothbrushes, lingering away in landfills across southern California and the world. Multiply that times however many billion people, and you start to see the problem.

In recent decades, toothbrush makers have gotten increasingly creative, innovating all kinds of incredibly shaped contraptions for for reaching those back molars. I never found any of them very convincing, although me kids are crazy for their toothbrushes that come shaped like giraffes and X-Wing fighters. But still, they’re always made from 100% plastic.

So when bamboo toothbrushes arrived on the scene, you better believe that this bamboo enthusiast sat up, took notice, and smiled a big shiny bright grin. So here’s a quick survey of a few bamboo toothbrushes that we’ve come across. And to make finding and purchasing them easier, we’ve included a few Amazon affiliate links in the article, as well as a couple links to our own bamboo shop. 

Top Five Toothbrushes

1. Brush With Bamboo

The great thing about these toothbrushes is that they are entirely plant based. Everything from the handle to the bristles to the packaging is made from bamboo and other plants, making it 100% compostable and biodegradable. Because we like these so much, we also sell them at Bambu Batu.

The handle is made from Moso bamboo, cultivated from wild bamboo forests in the mountains of China, where no pesticides or fertilizers ever come near. Vegetable oil is the key ingredient in the bio-based bristles. The result is a well-functioning and ergonomic toothbrush that can be buried in your backyard or in your compost pile when you’re through using it.

2. Smile Squared

The founders of Smile Squared were traveling on a humanitarian mission in  Central America when it suddenly occurred to them just how important a good toothbrush is for a child in the developing world. It didn’t take them long to come up with a terrific way to make the world a better place.

For every toothbrush they sell, Smile Squared donates a child’s sized bamboo toothbrush to a child in need. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. What better way to pay it forward and promote good health in developing countries.

Smile Squared makes toothbrushes for children and adults, and they are sold individually or in sets of 4 or 6 on Amazon.

3. Bamboo Charcoal Toothbrushes

Honest Ninja now produces a line of bamboo toothbrushes with charcoal bristles. But before you clench your teeth in dismay, you might want to take a look at this article on the benefits of bamboo charcoal. Bamboo charcoal is very effective for purifying air and water, and also does a great job of whitening the teeth. The charcoal bristles are actually quite soft and gentle, and of course the handle is made from bamboo as well. 

Amazon sells these bamboo charcoal toothbrushes in sets of four, and the company offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so you can’t go wrong.

4. Natural Carved Bamboo Toothbrushes

Oralogy offers a uniquely designed series of toothbrushes made from carved beauty, for a extra touch of style. The brushes come in a pack of four, each with a distinctly carved pattern. They also use soft nylon bristles infused with bamboo charcoal for additional whitening and disinfecting properties. 

We also appreciate the fact that Oralogy donates a portion of its proceeds to 4Ocean, an organization devoted to removing plastic and garbage from the oceans and beaches.

5. ECOFELLA Bamboo Toothbrushes

One more reputable company delivering a high-quality bamboo toothbrush with charcoal infused bristles, ECOFELLA takes a couple extra steps to make themselves stand out. With every set of brushes they sell, they plant five trees in Madagascar, where 90% of the forests have been cut down. Customers also receive a free e-book entitled “63 Ways to reduce your waste”.

If you’re looking to pay it forward with your dental hygiene, this might be the best solution of all. EcoFella bamboo toothbrushes are available on Amazon in sets of four, each numbered, so you won’t lose track of whose is whose.

In the comments section below, let us know which bamboo toothbrush is your favorite to use. And until next time, keep on smiling!

Benefits of Bamboo CharcoalThe Seemingly Unlimited Uses of Bamboo

Few plants can display a growth habit to rival that of bamboo. Some tropical species are known to shoot up at a rate of a foot or two a day in the growing season. But what about bamboo’s prospects in the afterlife? Yes, it can be processed into thousands of products, from building materials to towels to just about anything you can imagine. 

Even bamboo that’s been eaten by panda bears and comes out the other end can be made into fabulous panda poo paper products. But how about bamboo that’s been destroyed by fire? Surely its potential must be severely limited. Well, think again.

Bamboo Charcoal

By cooking mature stalks of bamboo at temperatures around 1000º C, the hardy plant undergoes thermal decomposition and turns into bamboo charcoal. This dark grey and seemingly inert end product actually has a surprising range of uses. Historically, the myriad applications of bamboo charcoal date back many centuries, millennia even. We can trace the oldest written record to the Ming Dynasty, 15th century.

Most uses of bamboo charcoal involve either cooking or some type of purification. But some of the most intriguing uses did not “come to light” until the 20th century. Relying on its strength and durability, Thomas Edison employed a carbon filament fashioned from bamboo for one of his very first light bulb experiments. These days, however, the demand for bamboo filament lightbulbs has greatly diminished, so don’t expect to see any on the shelves at Bambu Batu. Although you might find bamboo charcoal in some of our bamboo toothbrushes, which make use of its teeth-whitening properties. 

Purification and Filtration

Like most varieties of charcoal, bamboo is very effective as a medium for cleaning both air and water. Most water filters employ some sort of carbon filtration system, but there’s a bamboo water filter method that’s as easy as dunking a slab of charcoal into a jug of water. Within 3-4 hours, the bamboo leaches the impurities from your tap water.

IPPINKA Bamboo Charcoal Water Filter is a product of Japan, and it reliably removes chlorine from your water, for a cleaner and better tasting refreshment. They come three sticks in a box, and each stick lasts about a month or two. Just boil the stick once a week for ten minutes to keep it fresh.

If you’re just looking for something to clear the air, bamboo charcoal is perfect for that too. A little bag of charcoal in the sock drawer, in the car, or in the bathroom, can provide an effective and inconspicuous solution to the unpleasant odor problems.

Brilliant Evolution makes 50 gram bags of bamboo charcoal that are sold in sets of four. The reusable pouches last for up to 2 years. The charcoal itself is non-toxic, has no added chemicals or odors, and is easy to compost at the end of their use.

Bamboo Briquettes

We usually associate it German sausages and American burgers, but really, who doesn’t love a good BBQ? The oldest use of bamboo charcoal is probably for cooking, much like how we use different kinds of charcoal when we fire up the grill. Stalks and culms of bamboo are cooked down to what’s classified as raw charcoal, and the remaining residue and bi-product becomes charcoal briquettes.

But bamboo briquettes don’t lend the same sort of flavor as a nice mesquite, so it’s actually not so common to cook with it on the grill. More likely, the charcoal goes into a furnace to be used for heating. It’s also an ideal source of heat for drying out tea leaves, a very common practice in Asia.

Honorable Mention

One final use of bamboo charcoal may or may not be worth considering, depending whether you’ve got the stomach for it! In 2014, Burger King in Japan introduced the all-black cheeseburger. They used bamboo charcoal to color the buns, the burger and the cheese. Black squid ink was also added to the ketchup to make a black sauce. Bamboo charcoal is highly revered in Japan, and these frightening looking burgers were actually a big hit.

I can’t attest to the taste of a black cheeseburger, but why not treat yourself to some cleaner water and a little more fresh air? Bamboo charcoal can do it all!

Photo Credit: Charred bamboo, ready to enter the next stage of life (Wikipedia)

Bamboo Towels by Daisy HouseThe Quest for the Best

When we started selling bamboo towels more than a decade ago, there weren’t many brands to choose from. Back then, in 2006, BAMBU BATU was still the only all-bamboo boutique in California, and we were determined to stock our shelves with some incredible towels, at a time when no one had even heard of bamboo towels.

We took our chances and ordered a case of 60/40 bamboo-cotton blended towels, made in India, from a now defunct company with a major distribution center on the east coast. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but one thing is certain, those towels exceeded even our greatest expectations: as soft as cashmere, amazingly absorbent, odor resistant, and built to last. When the company discontinued the towels a year later we were absolutely devastated. Not only did we love the towels more than anything, but they were far and away the best selling line in the store. Apparently BAMBU BATU’s small scale success was not enough to keep the multi-national factories running.

After that heart break, it took us years to find a comparable replacement that lived up to that same level of quality, softness, absorbency and durability. Those towels had opened our eyes to a whole new world of post-bath luxury, and the genie would NOT go back in the bottle. So we dabbled in a dozen or more different brands of bamboo towels, ordering samples from all corners of the globe.

We washed, we dried, we daubed, we shimmied. But we were not about to settle for anything less than the very best. Eventually, we came up with a winner, and those are the towels we proudly sell in our San Luis Obispo brick-n-mortar shop and online

Our exhaustive research led us to many brands of bamboo towels, and a tremendous range in quality. Some towels were exceptionally soft but just didn’t seem very absorbent. Others were just too easy to snag on jewelry, on finger nails, or in the dryer. And some just didn’t seem to have the softness or the fluffiness that we’d come to count on from a great bamboo towel. 

All in all, the realm of bamboo towels is a wonderful and luxurious world to explore. So it’s a been a marvelous experience and great learning process. And now I’d like to pass along some of that bamboo knowledge, with this quick tour through some of the leading brands of bamboo towels. (NOTE: The following article includes some Amazon affiliate links.)

TOP CHOICE: 1. Daisy House Bamboo Towels

Amid the forest of bamboo companies, it’s not easy to narrow it down to just one superior choice. So what makes Daisy House stand out from the crowd? We love these towels for a lot of reasons. Most of all, they accentuate all the characteristics that make bamboo towels great: super soft, super fluffy, and super absorbent. Made in Turkey from a blend of cotton and bamboo, they also hold up very well over time.

In addition to these essential traits, Daisy House towels come in an astonishing variety of colors. Last time I checked there were 22 to choose from. Maybe your bathroom is hot pink with flamingo wall paper, or perhaps you’re trying to match the aquamarine tiles you picked up on your last trip to Mexico. Or do you prefer to go au natural? No matter what, they’ve got you covered. And we’re not the only ones ranking them number one; the Wall Street Journal also rated them the best overall towel.

Furthermore, Daisy House is a small, family-owned company, with excellent, friendly customer service. In an age of automated everything and corporate conglomerates, it means a lot to me when I can purchase my sustainable bamboo products from real humans with souls and voices.

2. Caribbean

In my experience, and as much as I love the bamboo, I have to say that I generally prefer the towels that are made from a blend of bamboo and cotton. It’s like they somehow give you the best of both worlds. But if you absolutely must have 100% bamboo, then Caribbean is the way to go.

These guys are real purists. They use nothing but 100% organic bamboo. And they donate a portion of their profits to UNICEF for children. So there’s a lot to love about these towels. Maybe they’re not as thick and fluffy as some of the bamboo-cotton blended towels, but the light weight and silky softness makes them ideal for babies and children.

The only down side here is that you won’t find a tremendous selection of colors. Being such purists, they only use un-dyed bamboo, so all their towels are white. But if you’re looking for 100% unadulterated organic bamboo towels from a company that really cares about helping children around the world, then Caribbean is your best choice. You can purchase their bath towels individually, but the price drops significantly if you buy them in sets of 6 or 12.

3. Murphy Bamboo

Murphy offers a line of luxurious bath towels made from 70% bamboo and 30% cotton. The ribbed terry fabric gives these deluxe towels and extra air of plush softness. There’s no doubt, these are some wonderfully soft, fluffy and absorbent towels. Personally, I’m a big fan of of ribbed towels, so that’s a plus for me, but some people might prefer a more uniform texture. The only other downside is the lack of color selection. Murphy Bamboo towels are currently only available in white. Check Amazon for current pricing and availability.

4. Cariloha

This company sprouted up out of nowhere about five years ago and dominated the internet virtually overnight. Their online presence makes them impossible to ignore, but they also deliver a very high quality product. 

As with any great bamboo towel worth mentioning, these are extra super cushy. Cariloha uses a 50-50 blend of bamboo and Turkish cotton to produce a great towel that’s exceptionally soft, fluffy and absorbent. They also offer a beautiful selection of colors, which can be helpful if you’re trying to match a specific bathroom decor. Your best option is probably Cariloha’s bamboo 3-piece towel set, which includes a generously sized bath towel, a hand towel and a washcloth.

5. Chakir Turkish Linens

Another excellent line of luxuriously soft towels made from a blend of 65% Turkish cotton and 35% bamboo. Chakir towels are comparable to Daisy House and Cariloha in price and quality, remarkably soft, thick, fluffy and absorbent. They are also available in several colors. 

UPDATE: Last we checked, these towels were sold out on Amazon, and it was not known when they would be available again. Seems that these towels are just too hot to keep in stock. Visit Amazon to check on current pricing and availability.

6. Brooklyn Bamboo

This company offers a luxurious 3-piece set of 100% bamboo bath towels, with all the fabulous qualities of softness and absorbency that make bamboo towels such a wonderful choice. The woven jacquard pattern adds an extra touch of elegance. Brooklyn Bamboo also carries a variety of bamboo towel sets for babies.

Keep in mind, with the 100% bamboo, these towels are not going to be as thick and fluffy as some of the bamboo-cotton blends like Daisy House. Also, Brooklyn bamboo towels are only available in a couple of colors, grey and off-white.

7. Bamboosa

Looking for a good family feeling and an American-made towel, look no further than Bamboosa of South Carolina, recently relocated to Los Angeles, California. This family-owned and operated company is a true pioneer in the bamboo field. Since around 2004, they have been committed to providing the most environmentally responsible and ethically produced bamboo products imaginable, while creating jobs and opportunities right here in America. 

Bamboosa’s towels are made from a blend of 80% organic bamboo and 20% recycled polyester. They are incredibly soft and absorbent, and so far as we know, the only bamboo towels being manufactured in the USA. 

As a small mom-n-pop enterprise, however, their availability is sometimes rather limited. Currently they have a bamboo gym towel and a some bamboo baby towel sets in stock.  Visit their website to order and to check availability.

8. Bamboo Classic

Their name says it all. No frills, just great bamboo. Made from a blend of 55% bamboo and 45% cotton, these towels are certainly soft and absorbent. To increase the softness and absorbency, they recommend washing the towels before use.

The Bamboo Classic towel sets only come in white, but check out Amazon’s price for a set of four bath towels, and you’ll see that they are among the least expensive bamboo towels on the market. However, the low price might come at the cost of durability. These don’t seem to be the same quality material that we’ve handled elsewhere.


The benefits of bamboo as a textile go on and on. It is one of the fastest growing and renewable plants on earth, and its versatility is unparalleled. Fabric made from the bamboo plants has also proven to be hypo-allergic, anti-microbial and odor resistant, making it an excellent material for products like t-shirts, socks, underwear, and more.

With such softness and absorbency, bamboo is also an ideal material for towels. But not all bamboo towels are created equally. And in my experience, some varieties of bamboo fabric seem to harness that softness and absorbency better than others. For instance, the bamboo-cotton blends appear to make the best towels — fluffier and more absorbent than the 100% bamboo towels that I’ve used. Even so, there is something appealing about a towel made from nothing but bamboo.

In assessing these towels, we also take into consideration the philosophy and spirit of our bamboo producing colleagues. As a family-owned business founded on a commitment to environmental awareness and social responsibility, we care about a lot more than just the bottom line. Therefore, we like to promote and do business with other like-minded companies. And so, for all of these reasons, we’ve chosen Daisy House as number one, and named Caribbean a close second.

Whatever bamboo towel you choose, we wish you all the best in your bathing, drying and bamboo swaddling!  

Bamboo rhizomes resist containment

There’s an old saying among seasoned bamboo growers. “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.” Those wanting a quick spreading hedge or grove in their backyard might be disappointed with their new stand of bamboo after the first 6 to 12 months. But it won’t be long before they’re running for their chainsaws and pick axes, desperate to curtail an out-of-control root system.

So before you plant that super sustainable renewable grass specimen in your garden, you’ll need to have a clear strategy for bamboo containment. And if it’s already too late, and the clump you planted just two or three years ago is already running amok, then you’ll want to consider some effective methods of bamboo abatement and eradication.

Or worse yet, maybe your neighbor went gung-ho a few years back after an inspiring trip to the home and garden show (or a quick glance at this rousing article on best bamboo varieties). And now his short-sighted dream of a Japanese garden is turning into a nightmare of bamboo rhizomes wreaking havoc on your fence line, your flowers beds, your veggie patch and your sprinkler system. In this case, you’ll want to study up on both topics mentioned above, in addition to possibly signing up for a course on non-violent communication.

When it comes to time make peace with your neighbor, you’re on your own. But this article will help you with the first two issues, and also prevent you from becoming the kind of gardener whose neighbors want to come after them with a bulldozer in the night.

The Importance of Bamboo Containment

If you’re planting a fast-growing (read: aggressively spreading) bamboo privacy hedge, or one of the popular and massive timber bamboos, and you live in a neighborhood (as opposed to rural farmland), then a good rhizome barrier is absolutely essential.

Here are a couple things you will need to keep in mind. First of all, never underestimate the tenacity of a healthy bamboo plant. Bamboo is a force of nature unlike any other. People like to talk about runners vs. clumpers, but as they mature, all bamboos display the undeniable will to spread out. You can put bamboo into a pot or a barrel, but don’t kid yourself. If there’s a crack in the barrel or a hole in the pot — and surely there is — the bamboo roots will eventually find their way out. And if there’s soil below, the roots will take hold faster than you can say phyllostachys!

Also know that those little rhizomes have an amazing ability to sniff out a good water supply, especially in a dry climate like California. That means, if you have some bamboo in the ground, and one of your neighbors has a drip irrigation in their herb garden, or they regularly run their sprinkles to keep the lawn green, it’s very likely that your bamboo will send out runners headed straight for that water source.

It’s like the bamboo has a kind of plant ESP. But just wait till those well-watered roots start sprouting up new shoots in the neighbor’s perfect lawn like UFOs (Underground F#@&ing Objects). Don’t expect them to be welcomed with open arms.

And don’t think you can just yank those unwanted sprouts from the soil like a handful of pesky dandelions. It’s not unheard of for people to rent a backhoe or a bulldozer to really clear out an established stand of bamboo. Otherwise, count on spending a few hours with a spade, maybe a pick ax, maybe even a Sawzall (reciprocating saw), to keep those running rhizomes at bay. And you’ll need to do that sort of maintenance at least once or twice a year if you really want to keep your bamboo from getting the upper hand.

How to Contain your Bamboo

After many centuries of man and bamboo butting heads, and bamboo almost always coming out the winner, some brilliant gardener(s) finally devised a virtually impenetrable system of bamboo containment to help keep your grass where it belongs.

Today you can (and should!) buy sheets of extremely durable black polyethylene, about 1.5 mm in thickness, and usually 24″ to 30″ in width. It’s normally available on a roll, anywhere from 25 to 100 feet in length. You might think 24″ is plenty. After all, who wants dig a 3 foot trench all the way around their hedge? But trust me, use at least 30″, you’ll be better off in the long run. Like I said before, never underestimate the perseverance of a bamboo.

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. Consider it a few hundred bucks well spent on your peace of mind and good neighbor relations.

Another less expensive alternative to consider is Bamboo Shield’s 24″ by 100 foot roll.

Bamboo Shield also offers shorter rolls with deeper coverage to contain the most aggressive bamboo specimens, all available at Amazon. Check out the Bamboo Shield 30″ by 50 foot roll, or the extra heavy duty Bamboo Shield 36″ by 25 foot roll .

How to Remove Bamboo

OK, so it’s already too late. You or your neighbor let some bamboo run free, and now it’s just out of control. Is there an easy way to get rid of it? Well yes, there are ways to get rid of it. But none of them are easy.

First you’ll need to cut it down to the ground, as low as possible. And then start digging. Pull out roots and rhizomes as you go. And keep on digging. If it’s a particularly tenacious variety you may want to reach for a pick ax or a hand saw. If nothing else works, or your back just isn’t up for this type of labor, your best best will be the Sawzall. As the name suggests, these things saw through anything.

The top of the line piece is Makita’s Cordless Recipro Saw Kit, sold complete with saw blades and an extra battery.

Or you could save a few bucks with a similar Dewalt 12 Amp Corded Reciprocating Saw.

In any case, don’t let these tools and cautionary tales frighten you out of planting an amazing grove of bamboo. With proper preparation, these incredible products make it possible for even the suburban gardener to plant an astonishing  stand that the whole neighborhood can enjoy!

Photo Credit: Bamboo rhizomes resisting containment (Wikipedia)

Best varieties of bamboo

After some 10 or 20 thousand years of cultivation, bamboo’s popularity may in fact be at an all-time high. Of course, 10,000 years ago, there were a lot fewer people around to exchange gardening tips. But it’s also true that more and more people today are recognizing bamboo for its utility, versatility, aesthetic beauty, and all-around sense of good joo-joo. Though it’s been revered in the Far East for these same qualities for many thousands of years, it’s taken a few extra centuries for this thing of wonder to reach the west and spread like wildfire — not unlike a few other things I can think of.  Yoga and sushi quickly come to mind.

As if sorting through the options of bamboo toothbrushes and bamboo towels weren’t challenging enough, consider now that if you’re looking to plant a few varieties of bamboo in your garden, you’ll have between 1-2,000 species to choose from. Even the bamboo specialists can’t agree on the actual number of bamboo breeds. But no need to split hairs over speciation. Today we’d like to help you narrow it down to the 10 best bamboo varieties for your garden.

Two Types of Bamboo

Some people like to say that there are types of bamboo: runners and clumpers. Of course, that’s a sweeping generalization, because, like I said, there are really something like 1-2,000 species of bamboo. Not only that, but there are also slow runners and aggressive clumpers, and a number of other factors that could affect the growth habit of your bamboo. Having said that, this still remains the simplest way to think of bamboos.


Most bamboos are runners, meaning that they send out rhizome roots racing underground in pursuit of moisture and elbow room. If you’re looking to plant a privacy hedge that will spread quickly along a fence line, or you just enjoy watching a voracious plant as it wields its dominion over the landscape, then this is the way to go. They also tend to be the easiest to find, especially at non-specialist nurseries, because they do propagate so easily.

But be careful, and think before you plant. The old adage about bamboo says that, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.” In other words, you might not think it’s a runner after the first year, but by the third or forth year, you almost certainly will, and so will your neighbors.

Running bamboos have no respect for property lines. If the neighbor to the one side is regularly sprinkling his perfectly manicured lawn, or the neighbor on the other side is constantly irrigating her prize-winning rose bushes, it won’t take long (especially in a dry place like California) for those eager rhizomes to sniff out those delicious water sources and wreak havoc on the roses, the lawn, the vegetable patch, the herb garden, and pretty much everything in sight. There goes the neighborhood!

So how do you avoid this un-neighborly catastrophe? Here are a few options:

Allow your running bamboo plenty of room to spread. If you’re gardening in a tightly-squeezed suburban subdivision, then you probably will not have plenty of room. If you’re trying to fill out and green up some vacant acreage, then that’s more like it. Keep you bamboo well-contained. There are a number of ways to do this, ranging from a simple solution like planting into a old wine barrel (or half barrel) to burying any manner of rhizome barrier into the ground. Just remember, with time and pressure, there’s almost nothing that stop those roots from spreading. So whatever you put into the ground, plant it thick and deep. (Check out our tips on bamboo containment.) Get your hands dirty and prune your bamboo regularly. That means not only trimming back the shoots, but going underground and cutting back those vigorous roots. Look for smaller and slower running bamboos, like some of the ground cover varieties. But keep an eye on them. Sometimes they look sleepy on the surface, even while the roots are constructing an invisible empire underground. Find some clumping bamboo and plant those instead.

The fact is, many of the most interesting and attractive bamboo species are runners. They also tend to be less expensive and easier to find in nurseries. So now that you’ve been warned, here are a few great bamboo varieties to look for.

Phyllostachys vivax

You’ll definitely want to allow some extra space for this tremendous timber bamboo that easily reaches 20 to 50 feet in height, with culms up to 4 or 5 inches in diameter. As you can imagine, it will also have a pretty massive footprint. But for anyone who’s got the space for it, this majestic grass could be a prized specimen and the envy of bamboo enthusiasts all around.

I planted one of these in my suburban backyard in San Luis Obispo, and kept it in a 15 gallon pot for fear of it overtaking the neighborhood. After 5 or 6 years it never looked unhealthy, but it sure never reached the kind of stature described above. It really needs room to spread out.

Semiarundinaria fastuosa

Another very impressive variety, its regal appearance has earned this one the nickname of “Temple Bamboo”, which also happens to be FAR easier to pronounce! This bamboo can get to be 20 or 30 feet in height, but its richly colored culms don’t grown much larger than an inch or so in diameter.

I also planted one of these in a 15 gallon container, but it didn’t take long to break out and proliferate around the yard. But with such handsome shoots, I just couldn’t bring myself to uproot them. This really is a beautiful species of bamboo.

Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo)

The distinctively dark brown (not quite black) shoots make this one of the most popular strains of bamboo, and any nursery that sells bamboo is likely to have some of this on hand. As the plant matures, the dark color of the culms grows richer, making for a very attractive contrast against the bright green leaves.

Pseudosasa japonica (arrow bamboo)

Also quite popular, arrow bamboo earned its name from its long, strong, straight poles, which Samurai warriors used to make arrows. Today it’s a great choice for planting in shady corners of the garden. Also, though technically classified as a runner, it has a far more restrained growth habit than most bamboos of that class. The broad green leaves make this a very vibrant and attractive specimen.

Dwarf Green Stripe

One of the few bamboos that can be cultivated as a ground cover, this one makes an excellent accent alongside larger bamboo varieties, around Japanese pines, and in any sort of Asian themed garden setting. Its compact size also makes it much easier to contain, despite its being a runner. Just keep an eye on those roots!


While the most impressive varieties of bamboo tend to be runners, the conscientious gardener is always on the look out for a good breed of clumping bamboo. They might not always display the awesome meter-a-day growth of some fabled bamboos of the tropics, or the massive culms that make you want to reach out your arms for a bear hug, but they can lend an exotic charm to any small scale zen oasis or Japanese garden.

Now before you rush over to Home Depot, or your nearest box store discount nursery, and start asking sales clerks for their recommendations on clumping bamboos, keep in mind that very few people — nursery employees included — can reliably distinguish a runner from a clumper. And as long as clumpers remain more expensive, more sought after, and harder to come by, it’s easy to imagine how unreliable certain sales people could be.

With that in mind, I’d like to recommend a couple of my favorite bamboo nurseries in California: Bamboo Sourcery in Sebastopol and Bamboo Giant near Santa Cruz. These guys really know their bamboo. But if you want my opinion, here are a few of my favorite clumpers.

Bambusa oldhamii

An old favorite, Oldhamii is said to be the most widely grown variety of bamboo in all of the United States. You might say it’s an old standard. Native to Taiwan, it does have a preference for the tropical climes and is not very cold-hardy. But with shoots reaching up to 60 feet or more (under ideal conditions) and growing up to about 4 inches in diameter, it’s certainly an impressive specimen, particularly for a clumper. You’d have to agree, it’s an oldie but a goodie!

Otatea acuminata (Mexican Weeping Bamboo)

With its slender stalks and delicate, wispy leaves, this delightfully compact specimen looks good in nearly any garden. All it needs is a gentle breeze to make it really come alive. It also prefers warmer climates. I grew some in a cool, coastal climate, and it always looked happy; it just never grew very big.

Buddha’s Belly (subspecies of Bambusa vulgaris)

With a catchy named derived from the bulbous shape of its internodes, Buddha’s Belly is one of the easiest species to recognize and one of the largest varieties of clumping bamboo. Whatever it lacks in straight and narrow poise, it more than makes up for with portly character. This subtropical variety also does better in the warmer zones.

Alfonse Karr

Exquisitely elegant, this variety is easy to recognize with its green and yellow racing stripes. Even amidst a great collection of bamboos, this one is sure to stand out. In ideal conditions, it can get up to 20 feet, and the culms grow to about 1 inch in diameter.

Himalayacalamus hookerianus (Himalayan Blue)

The richly colored, powdery blue culms give this bamboo an especially attractive appearance. Indigenous to the mountains of China, it also does better in warmer and subtropical regions. But it grows especially well around ponds and in containers. Culinary tip: fresh shoots of the Himalayan Blue are edible are said to be quite tasty. Anyone for stir fry?

I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful. If you have a favorite bamboo that we were unable to include in this short list, go ahead and let us know in the comments section. Meanwhile, happy gardening!

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

How to grow kaleCheck it out!  DIY Garden presents The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Growing Your Own Kale! This superfood boasts deep, earthy flavors that can range from rich and meaty to herbaceous and slightly bitter. And it is easy peasy to grow!  Here’s the link.

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Growing Your Own Kale!

Bamboo reading glasses from Blue Planet eyewear

A New Year has just begun, and what better time than now to see things from a new point of view? Why not look at the world through a fresh pair of sunglasses or readers fashioned in beautiful, renewable bamboo from Blue Planet Eyewear!

This eco-friendly line of eyewear, available locally at Bambu Batu, comes in a variety of materials to suit your conscious lifestyle. But, of course, we are big fans of the bamboo frames. Here in sunny San Luis Obispo, it’s important to have at least one reliable pair of shades, and these bamboo sunglasses strike a flattering look. Drop by the shop to see which style looks best on you.

Also, for those of you who spend a lot of time reading or in front of a screen, you’re going to love our newest addition, the bamboo readers! Again, these come in multiple styles, for both men and women. So come in and see for yourself.

And if you’re interested in other eyewear made from certified wood and recycled materials, you can check out Blue Planet Eyewear. The world of sustainable options will never look the same!




Boody Wear

Boody call!

Are you still looking for the most comfortable and ecologically responsible undergarments known to man and woman? So were we, but it looks like we’ve found them: Boody Wear.

Here at Bambu Batu, we never stop striving to find the best bamboo options on the market. That’s how we’ve stayed in business for ten years now and counting. That’s also how we discovered such favorites at the deluxe bamboo towels from Daisy House and the 100% bamboo sheets from Bed Voyage.

And now we are delighted to announce a new day in the world of bamboo panties. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my wife discovered and purchased a pair of Boody Wear classic bikini panties at a health food store up in the Santa Cruz mountains. After having tried out a dozen different brands and styles of bamboo undies over the past decade, she was quickly convinced and these became her new favorites.

So we now carry those bikini briefs and several other styles of women’s bamboo undies from Boody Wear, as well as three different styles of leggings (another personal favorite) and a wide variety of tank tops, camisoles and undershirts. Boody also makes a couple styles of men’s bamboo underwear—both boxers and briefs—and some exceedingly comfortable and well-made bamboo socks. And like my wife, many of our customers are quickly becoming addicted to Boody’s superior softness and quality fit.

If you’re looking to enjoy the comfort of bamboo, with softness where it really counts, I invite you to come on in to Bambu Batu and peruse our undergarments. (Yes, I really said that!) But be careful, you might get hooked.

Life in the SLO Lane

Over the years, Bambu Batu has earned a pretty solid reputation for creating some of the best bamboo t-shirt designs available anywhere. So we are very proud to introduce the latest jewel in our eco-conscious crown: Life in the SLO Lane.

Anyone who’s ever worn a bamboo t-shirt can assure you that it’s about the softest, most comfortable material known to man. Not only that, but its fast growing and resilient growth habit make it one of the most sustainable resources as well.

And anyone who’s ever spent any time on California’s gorgeous Central Coast can tell you that there’s no place on earth like San Luis Obispo. Often described as the happiest city in America, SLO has a charm and a lifestyle all its own. Situated almost exactly halfway between the sprawling metropolitan areas of LA and the San Francisco Bay, and about 10 minutes from the pristine coast, the little town of 44,000 features many of the cultural opportunities and amenities of the city, without all the hassles of traffic, smog, crime and congestion. Spend a couple days here, and you’ll soon realize just what we mean by the “SLO Life”.

This original t-shirt celebrates our way of life with style and comfort. It comes in several colors—sky blue, brick red, harvest orange, pine green and mustard—and in all sizes for men and women. This unique design is printed locally in small batches, so they’re not on our website yet, but feel free place your order by phone (805-788-0806), or better yet, stop by Bambu Batu and see it for yourself.


Even before the emergence of myths and drama, our ancestors produced symbols to express the quandary of their condition. No image encapsulates the pattern of human experience quite so precisely and succinctly as the ancient mandala, rendered most elegantly in the icons of Tibetan Buddhism, but dating back dozens of millennia to man’s most primordial symbol making and as far forward as his most contemporary dream weaving.

The circle in the square

Stripped bare of its elaborate ornamentation, the mandala essentially consists of three basic elements: a small circle, enclosed by a square, enclosed by a large circle. As I see it, these three simple shapes correspond ever so neatly with the three elementary components of every great story, namely every great myth that has endured the ages. In The Odyssey, the classic hero’s tale, we have departure, adventure and return. In the Riddle of the Sphinx we hear of childhood, manhood and old age. The Book of Genesis speaks of Paradise, Paradise lost and Paradise regained, or in the parlance of the New Testament, we have birth, death and rebirth. These are but four of the best known examples, from which we could extrapolate endlessly to draw parallels with every familiar storyline.

In other words, the simple geometry of a mandala acts as a metaphor for the simple structure of the myth, which is a metaphor in itself. So, let’s see if we can’t do a little metaphorical unpacking here to unravel the symbols of the human experience.


Our story begins in the small circle. A one-sided shape with neither top nor bottom, the circle signifies wholeness, unity. This is the circle of bliss, in the ignorance of infancy, where the undeveloped and undifferentiated psyche draws no distinction between itself and the other. Then the child grows and enters the square, defined as having a top and a bottom, a left and a right, perfect pairs of opposites. As she encounters the unknown, the child must learn to classify things, to differentiate between good and bad, and to categorize the objects of her world into neat little boxes. The hero spends a lifetime navigating this terrain, which many mandalas aptly portray as an intricate maze, much like the labyrinth of the Minotaur.


The rigorous complexity of the square eventually takes its toll. The unity collapses, fracturing into all those pairs of opposites. In maturity, the mind requires order, logic, and categorization. We learn to identify things as good or bad, male or female, healthy or unhealthy. Everything must belong to one category or the other.

The individual longs for the simple unity it knew in the womb or in childhood. But there’s no going home again. To fulfill his destiny, he must advance to the next level, and this metaphor functions equally well for every stage of development and maturation. When the going gets rough, you can’t just move back in with your parents and resume the life of a happy child anymore than you can squeeze your toothpaste back into the tube.

And yet, how many unhappy adults do we know who try to pass themselves off as happy adolescents?

Rebirth, Atonement, the Hero’s Return

Finally, the page rescues the princess; the martyr is reborn and crowned king; the Jedi knight reconciles the forces of darkness and light. The protagonist overcomes his challenge after grappling with the pairs of opposites, and he comes to terms with weak and strong, good and evil, right and wrong. The cycle is now completed in this state of enlightenment. He enters the higher circle and recognizes his oneness with an understanding he never had as a child. He has differentiated himself from the other, wrestled with the unknown, and now he embraces a unity vast enough to include all of it.

The terminology of archetypal psychology describes these three stages with marvelous clarity. The mandala diagram essentially illustrates what Carl Jung calls unconscious perfection (of childhood), conscious imperfection (of middle age), and conscious perfection (of old age). We may recall a passage of the Bible that puts it similarly. “Except ye become as a child, ye cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Indeed, the ultimate destination is a circle, just as the starting point is a circle, but a circle at a whole other order of magnitude.

Communion with the Universal Mind

It is vitally important, in the imagery of the mandala, that each shape is contained inside the other. Moving from one level to the next does not mean abandoning the previous stage, but requires the act of transcending and including. This is worth remembering through any and all stages of maturation, for the initiate will inevitably be tempted to reject his prior identity and cling to the “better” and more sophisticated self. But this is a mistake. The true sophisticate will retain all of it, understanding that even those inferior qualities contribute something valuable to the whole.

The large circle seems to represent the highest realm of consciousness, enlightened Buddhahood and oneness with the divine. For most of us then, the mandala provides a helpful roadmap for spiritual development, even as we realize we are unlikely to attain that state of total nirvana on any regular basis. It this case, it is useful to see the image as a metaphor for incremental improvements, as we climb upward step by step. So don’t get too comfortable when you reach the big circle; it is not the finish line, but merely the opening of the next mandala, in a cycle that repeats itself indefinitely, as we continue to step out of our comfort zones and into the unknown, always striving to include and transcend and grow as humans.

Evolution of Consciousness

Finally, we can read the mandala as a metaphor for human development on a larger, historical scale. In antediluvian times, our as forefathers gathered around the fire, danced naked in the moonlight, and threw virgins off of the pyramids, they experienced a unity with god, or imitatio dei. Even in more recent history, the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament spoke to God, through angels and shrubs.

Only in the last three or four centuries, thanks to the paradigm shattering discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, Newton, etc., whose discoveries literally moved the earth, mankind has been driven into a quagmire of spiritual uncertainty where God is dead. We have succeeded in naming the elements, categorizing the life forms, and dating the universe, but we have separated ourselves from Mother Earth and Father Sky.

We have learned to dominate our environment, but at what cost? The last century has seen a mad rush to return to the comfort of the small, infantile circle, in the form of religious fundamentalism, archaic astrology and backwards-looking wicca. Yet we know that this regression will get us nowhere, unless they can be directed at opening the larger circle of the One.

Enter the Kingdom

In order to thrive and regain the state of blissful unity, we must move forward, we must take the next step up that spiraling staircase. Our faith in the forces of the market are no substitute for an immovable faith in the All Father, but this is where we have arrived.  Adam Smith’s invisible hand cannot replace Neptune’s triton, but for many it has. To restore the lost paradise we must rediscover one another, we must reconnect with highest forms of human potential, we must abandon the false idolatry of materialism, and we must learn to see through the eyes of others as if they were our own.


If you enjoy these sorts of metaphysical speculations and interpretations, you’ll also like reading about the symbolism behind the Indian Ganesh, and the archetypal dimensions of Kermit the Frog.  And you can always share your own thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.