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.10 Best bamboo varieties for your garden 11 Cold hardy bamboos for snowy climates Dendrocalamus strictus, also known as Bambu Batu
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 as a cannabis aficionado, 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. Although the THC is no longer present in the oil after the extraction process.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 marijuana 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.
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 vs. Bamboo: The ultimate comparison What’s so great about Bamboo?
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.
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
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 Bamboo symbolism in legends and folklore Bamboo Q & A: Ask the experts
You don’t need to be a master guru of Eastern mysticism to recognize the sublime beauty of a Tibetan Buddhist Thangka. Simply take a close look at one of these traditional religious paintings, and you can practically feel your heart, mind and soul being swept away to a higher plane.
The magic and mystery of this sacred art form is nothing short of mesmerizing. But the more you know about the stories and symbols that go into these rich religious paintings, the more respect you feel for the wisdom that they depict.
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.The Thangka Tradition
Devotional Buddhists have special practices for creating a sense of sacred time and space, namely chanting and meditation. And though they don’t exactly worship idols, it is common for Buddhists and Hindus to create altars and decorate them with paintings and statuary to help maintain that sacred presence.
Among the most powerful of such religious images are the Tibetan Buddhist Thangka paintings, part of a tradition that dates back roughly 1000 years. Thought to be a spin-off of the far older tradition of cave painting, these exquisitely decorated artworks are typically created to be light-weight and portable.
Most often depicting a specific deity or bodhisattva, the monks and votaries paint these religious icons on silk or paper, which is further protected by a silk cover, and then rolled up like a scroll. Especially conducive to the nomadic or hermetic lifestyle, the devotee can travel with his Thankga and unroll it whenever he sees fit, for times of prayer and meditation, for example.
I like to think of them as the bonsai trees of religious art. Originally, the Samurai warriors kept bonsai trees, which they could carry along on their extensive journeys. Something like a family member in their solitary lives, the Samurais cared for the trees and were able to enjoy a special connection with nature, wherever they went.
As with the bonsai trees, the Thangka paintings are created with extraordinary care and attention. With a high quality Thangka, the finished work should inspire a sense of divine reverence, and that’s the same sort of devotion and concentration that the artists employ to produce these masterpieces.Religious Imagery in the Thangkas
The variety of imagery in Thangka paintings has grown immense over the centuries, but traditionally, the artwork depicts a single Buddhist deity, a meaningful icon, or in some cases, a narrative scene.DEITIES
Probably the most common subject of a Thangka painting is the Buddha, who may appear in his ascetic, meditating form as Shakyamuni, or in his more portly and jubilant incarnation as the Laughing Buddha. But the variations go on and on, eyes open or closed, hands lifted or clasped in prayer. The possibilities are endless. Check out this brilliant Buddha Thangka on Amazon for an example.
There’s no definitive, orthodox interpretation of the symbolism, but it depends more on the experience of the beholder. You cannot judge a Thangka painting by any objective measure, only by the sort of feeling it produces in you. If you are decorating an altar or shrine, you’ll want to consider the types of energy you wish to invoke, whether calming, invigorating, uplifting, transcendental, or something else.
Besides the venerable Buddha, there are dozens of other deities and bodhisattvas in the pantheon. One of the most popular and frequently depicted is Tara, who herself has a variety of avatars. We generally associate Tara with mindfulness and meditation.
The Green Tara, more specifically, invokes powers of protection from darkness, temptations and illusion. White Tara stands for health and longevity, as well as compassion. Here’s an example of a spectacular Green Tara Thangka on Amazon.
Another highly revered bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara represents the deepest embodiment of compassion. This deity can take either a male or female form, and very often appears as the goddess Quan Yin, frequently holding out a vessel to collect the tears of mankind’s sorrow.
One of the most terrifying images to adorn the Buddhist Thangka is Chemchok Heruka with his twenty-one heads and forty-two hands. The Tibetan Book of the Dead speaks of the Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, and Chemchok Heruka is the most iconic of the 58 wrathful deities. He often appears in the presence of the 42 peaceful deities, including a panoply of buddhas, bodhisattvas and gatekeepers.BUDDHIST ICONS
Instead of depicting a personal deity, another type of Buddhist religious art involves some highly symbolic icons. The most common of these symbols are the Mandala and the Wheel of Life, and both are well worth meditating over.The Mandala
The Mandala holds a very special place in my own spiritual practice, and the first Thangka I acquired was a phenomenal Mandala painting from Bhutan. I have seen a few different explanations of this sacred geometric image, having to do with multiple worlds and layers of reality. But the following is my own interpretation of this cosmic symbol.
Mandalas come in many versions, but generally they feature a small circle at the center, enclosed by a square (or series of squares), finally surrounded by a greater circle. I read this pattern as a metaphor for psychological and spiritual development.
At birth we are in the small circle, at one with all things, unable to differentiate between self and other. This is the level of unconscious perfection. With time and age we learn, like Adam and Eve, to recognize the pairs of opposites. We enter the material world of squares, of us and them, heaven and earth, good and evil, the state of conscious imperfection.
Finally, with concentrated spiritual practice, we strive to enter the realm of cosmic unity, where all things are connected and interdependent. This is the state of enlightenment, the grand circle of conscious perfection. And in most Mandala paintings, the outer circle is surrounded by a multitude of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, enlightened beings.The Om
The Om symbol shows up constantly in both Buddhist and Indian religious artwork. Surely you’ve seen the swirly icon on tattoos, yoga mats and tapestries. Often, the Om sits at the focal point of a mandala, in the center of the circle.
So what does it mean?
We frequently refer to Om as the sacred syllable. If you’ve ever attended a group meditation, you’ve probably heard or participated in the chanting of the Om. It represents the sound of everything in the universe resonating together. And in this sense, it signifies the interconnectedness of all things. It is the state of conscious perfection.
But some interpretations take it a step further, dividing the Om into parts. Like the mandala, an Om consists of three or four units. Alternately spelled a-u-m, each letter stands for a member of the Hindu Trimurti, the Indian trinity of gods, i.e. Brahma (creator), Vishnu (maintainer) and Shiva (destroyer or transformer).
You can think of the Om encompassing the three stages of life: birth, life and death. And you might also add the silence after the closing “m”. In the silence we have a return to the source, and a restoration of the life force. The Om inside the mandala reminds us to meditate upon this and recognize that life and death, joy and sorrow, are all parts of an endless cycle in which all is one.The Wheel of Life
A powerful symbol throughout world religions, but especially in the far east, Hindu and Buddhist traditions look the Wheel of Life as a representation of endless and ongoing reincarnation. Metaphorically, we can also think of the Wheel as a symbol of the ongoing back-and-forth struggle between desire and fulfillment, one of the chief themes in Buddhist philosophy.
One of the primary goals of Buddhist spiritual practice is to break free from this arduous cycle. The cycle, after all, is based on the illusion (Samsara) that desire can be fulfilled and that fulfillment will bring satisfaction. In fact, we know from experience that the fulfillment of one desire only leads to the birth of new desires and dissatisfactions. The initiate must choose then, to break the cycle, or to accept its inevitability.
The iconography in these Wheels of Life can be some of the most fascinating and intricate. Keep an eye out for the rendering of the Three Higher Realms, in the upper portions of the wheel, occupied by humans, gods and demi-gods. And then look at the bottom spokes of the wheel to find the Three Lower Realms, including the hells, the animal realm and the hungry ghost realm.
Check out some of these stunning Wheel of Life Thangka paintings at Amazon.NARRATIVE SCENES
Less common, but more visually appealing for some, narrative scenes make up another genre of Thangka paintings. These works depict various scenes from Eastern mythology, including episodes from the Mahabharata or from the life of Lord Buddha. This type of imagery might look better in other parts of the house, not necessarily confined to the altar corner.
If there’s a particular passage from Buddhist or Hindu mythology that really resonates for you, you can might find of beautiful Thangka painting of it somewhere. Although these sorts of Thangkas are much less common.
I’d be especially interested to find a detailed illustration of Arjuna and Krishna talking things over on the battlefield. The speech delivered by Krishna is one of the most profound passages in any sacred text. A depiction of young Buddha venturing outside the palace, encountering old age and sickness for the first time, would also make brilliant wall decor. Or, an image of Shiva lopping the head off of young Ganesh and replacing it with an elephant could really tie a room together.Further reading
If you enjoy these sorts of philosophical excursions and interpretations, you’ll also want to check out the following articles.Meanings in the Mandala: Roadmap of the Mind Om is where the Heart is: Meditations on the One The Symbolism of the Indian Ganesh Archetypal Dimensions of Kermit the Frog Bamboo Symbolism and Mythology
Did you know that 380 million tons of plastic were produced in 2018? That brings the total quantity of plastic up to about 6.5 billion tons since its introduction in the mid 1950s. Yeah, that’s a lot of dixie cups.A PLASTIC APOCALYPSE
Generous estimates say that first world countries manage to recycle about 25 percent of their plastic waste. If it’s disposed of responsibly, the remaining waste should end up in the landfill.
But I would encourage you to visit your local landfill and see for yourself just how responsible it is. Like the holocaust museums in Germany, they are something every citizen of this planet should be aware of.
Civil society has found a way to make it look like our garbage simply disappears at the end of every week. But that’s not actually how it works. Talk about burying the truth.
Meanwhile, we know for certain that astronomical quantities of plastic and packaging are ending up elsewhere. How do we know that? Because there are multiple islands of litter floating around the sea, and they are larger than some countries. And I don’t mean Malta or Liechtenstein. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, though difficult to measure, is at least the size of Texas or France, and some estimates say many times larger.
But the plastics don’t just sit there, floating about harmlessly like a few olives in a salty martini. If only.
For several decades now, birds and marine life—not trained to be on the watch for harmful particulates—have been consuming this toxic debris at a brisk and predatory pace. Biologists estimate that 90 percent of birds now contain particles of plastic. And by 2050 there will likely be more plastic in the seas than fish. Let me say that again: More plastic than fish.URGENT ACTION NEEDED
You would have to be numb and heartless not to recognize this as the global crisis that it is. And I would have to be somewhat naive and Polyannaish if I told you not to panic. By all means, if there were ever a time to panic, this is it.
We should be panicking in the streets. We should be panicking at the mall. We should be panicking in classrooms. We should be panicking in the halls of Congress.
Perhaps you feel helpless. Perhaps you don’t think there’s anything you can do as a single individual that could make a difference. But we need to do more than just panic. And we can. These ginormous garbage patches are nothing more than a conglomeration of single individual pieces, and we as individuals need to start doing something. Now.REDUCE YOUR WASTE
A lot of people are talking about zero waste these days, and that’s a good thing. But don’t be put off by the fact that you will never actually be able to reduce your waste down to nothing. The point is, there are dozens of simple things you can do to drastically reduce your waste.
Two of the biggest sources of waste are packaging and single-use plastics like cups, straws and utensils. And these are some very easy things to scale back on with just a minimal adjustment of your personal habits.REUSABLE BAGS & CONTAINERS
We’ve known for years about bringing our own shopping bags to the grocery store. This is basically square one. It might take a few trips to get into the habit, but your best bet is simply to keep some extra bags in your car at all times.
Nowadays, you can find flimsy tote bags just about anywhere. But if your goal is to reduce your waste, then you’ll want heavy duty canvas (non-plastic!) bags that are going to last. Check out this set of three cotton canvas grocery bags from Amazon. Or this set of organic canvas and jute tote bags.
Shopping bags are the first step. Now what about produce bags? If you’re still putting your bananas into a disposable plastic bag at the grocery store, I need to tell you something: STOP! Please. Bananas already come individually wrapped. Nature’s packaging is perfect. Don’t mess with it.
But you might still want to bag your grapes, your lettuce and your broccoli. You could easily go through 5 or 10 of those bags every week, and they disintegrate quickly so they’re almost impossible to reuse. But you can find lightweight reusable bags for that too. A set of 9 cotton mesh produce bags can eliminate the need for hundreds of disposable bags each year, in your household alone!
When you’re really ready to step up your game, you can start bringing your own jars and containers for the bulk dry goods section, for pasta, grains, cereals and so on. When you think about it, almost every single thing you eat comes in a package, but it doesn’t have to, and it sure doesn’t have to be a single-use package.
More and more grocery stores are expanding their bulk sections and zero waste stores are increasingly offering a wide range of bulk goods and cleaning products. Just bring a container and refill it with granola, honey, shampoo, tooth paste, you name it.
I’m partial to glass jars, and a set of 6 32-oz. jars will definitely get you started on converting your pantry into something closer to zero waste. For smaller servings I usually just save and re-use old jelly jars.REUSABLE UTENSILS
When it comes to disposable living, one of my biggest pet peeves has to be the single-use plastic utensil industrial complex. Throwaway forks, throwaway containers, and my greatest nemesis, throwaway straws.
Make a habit of keeping a set of bamboo utensils in your car, in your purse, in your desk, or all of the above. Our family has been using re-usable To-Go Ware utensil sets for years and we love them. They are durable, easy to clean, and come in a nice carrying case that includes fork, spoon, knife and a pair of chopsticks. They also make sets for the kids, ideal for the lunch box.
But for true minimalism, you have to love the bamboo spork. The pinnacle of efficiency, with its sleek design and low profile, nothing can rival the functionality of the bamboo spork. You can even find them at Bambu Batu with a handsome cork carrying case. And yes, they make perfect gifts. More sporks means less waste, so give generously!
Finally, stop throwing away those pesky plastic straws after one use. Instead, you can order a set of 8 stainless steel straws that basically last forever. The set even comes with nice little brush keep the straws clean.
You might ask, with 8 billion people, what difference can I make with my one little straw and my one little spork? But if 8 billion people all ask the same question, and come back with the right answer, then of course we can make a difference. So go ahead, get started today, and be a part of the solution.
Learn more: For more tips on earth conscious consumption, check out the following links.The best zero waste shops in California The best bamboo towels The best bamboo sheets Bamboo Q & A
Disclosure: Bambu Batu is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that helps pay for the maintenance of the site. When items are purchased through our links, Bambu Batu receives a small commission at no additional cost to the customer. It’s a free and easy way for you to support a small, family-owned business like ours.
The world of bamboo is vast and fascinating. With so many varieties, so many uses, and so much to know about this remarkable plant, we never seem to run out of questions, myths and misconceptions.
So let’s cut to the chase and answer 12 of the most common questions about bamboo that we hear all the time from our readers and customers.1. Why is bamboo called a grass?
Botanists classify bamboo as a grass because of its perennial, flowering, monocotyledonous growth habit. Like all grasses, bamboo has stems that are mostly hollow except at the nodes, and grows with leaves that form a sheath around the stem. The grass family, Poaceae, includes about 12,000 species, with approximately 1,500 species of bamboo belonging to more than 100 different genera.2. Which bamboo is non-invasive and easy to contain?
Most bamboos propagate themselves with underground roots called rhizomes. We call these types of bamboo “runners” because of how the rhizomes spread quickly and aggressively. Other varieties of bamboo have a more compact growth habit and we call them “clumpers”. Most species of the Bambusa genus are clumpers, including the very popular Oldhami. Alphonse Karr is another popular clumper.
For more suggestions, check out this article on the 10 Best bamboos for your garden. We also have an article on How to contain and control your bamboo, because even the clumping varieties will spread over time.3. Which bamboo grows the fastest and tallest?
Bamboo is famous, in some cases infamous, for how fast it grows. Some varieties can grow up to two feet a day, but that’s under optimal conditions (usually in the tropics) and only during the new growth season. The genus Phyllostachys includes some of the most vigorous species of running bamboo. The tallest and thickest varieties of bamboo are generally referred to as timber bamboo; some are runners and some clumpers. Phyllostachys vivax and Olhami are among the most popular timber bamboo.
Again, check out our article on the 10 Best bamboos for your garden.4. What species of bamboo is Lucky Bamboo?
Sorry to burst your bamboo-loving bubble, but Lucky Bamboo is not actually a bamboo at all. Rather, it is a species of the temperate houseplant, Dracaena. But don’t fret, almost all varieties of bamboo are lucky by their very nature!
You can read our article on Dracaena sanderiana for more details.5. Will bamboo grow in Canada and cold climates?
Good news! Even if you live in Canada, Minnesota or the heights of the Rocky Mountains, you can find an assortment of cold hardy bamboo species that will thrive in your area. The most cold hardy varieties belong to the genus Phyllostachys (mostly runners) or the genus Fargesia (mostly clumpers).
Definitely take a look at our article on the Best cold hardy bamboos. You can check your local nursery, or you may want to order specific varieties of bamboo online.6. Will bamboo grow indoors?
Generally, bamboo does NOT grow well indoors. Being a grass, bamboo requires a lot of fresh air and sunlight. Some bamboos prefer shady places in the garden, but not inside the house. You can keep bamboo in a sunny window for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but it will not thrive. White flies, spider mites and other pests can become a problem. If it has to be indoors, better to stick with Lucky Bamboo. (See above.)7. Why is bamboo eco-friendly?
Bamboo’s incredible rate of growth and self-propagation makes it an incredibly renewable and sustainable resource. And its versatility makes it an ideal substitute for timber, cotton, even steel. Unlike most crops, bamboo grows naturally in dense “mono-crop” settings without the need for pesticides and fertilizers. Furthermore, an area of bamboo can produce 35 percent more oxygen than the same area of trees, making it an excellent remedy for carbon pollution.8. Can you eat bamboo?
Absolutely. Asians have been enjoying the nutritional benefits of fresh bamboo shoots for thousands of years. Not every species of bamboo has tasty shoots, but a few of the more popular edible varieties are Bambusa oldhamii, Phyllostachys edulis, and Phyllostachys bambusoides.
To learn more about the history and nutrition of eating bamboo, you can read our article on Edible bamboo shoots.9. What kind of bamboo do pandas eat?
There are roughly 40 different species of bamboo that make up the diet of the giant panda bear. None of these includes Moso bamboo, which is the Chinese variety used most widely for commercial purposes, including bamboo clothing and bamboo flooring.10. When does bamboo flower?
Different species of bamboo have different flowering schedules, which can vary dramatically. Many varieties only flower once every hundred years or so. Interestingly, in many cases, almost every specimen of given species, anywhere in the world, will flower at the same time when the blooming cycle comes around. In some cases, the bamboo will die after flowering. Because bamboo typically propagates itself by spreading its roots, the flowering is not so important for survival the way it is in other plants.11. Can you grow bamboo from seeds?
Bamboo can be grown from seed, although it’s not the standard practice. It’s much easier to propagate bamboo by taking root cuttings and dividing established clumps. To grow bamboo from seed is more of a novelty for real bamboo and botany enthusiasts. Growing from seed can result in a slightly different strain, rather than the identical copy you get from a cutting.12. What’s so great about bamboo clothing?
Bamboo has gained increased attention in recent years with the advent of bamboo clothing and textiles. The benefits of bamboo clothing are almost too numerable to list. To begin with, bamboo’s tenacious growth habit makes it incredibly renewable and sustainable. As mentioned above, bamboo grows quickly, requires no pesticides and herbicides, and needs no replanting after harvesting. This is in sharp contract to conventional cotton which is extremely pesticide intensive.
In addition to the ecological advantages of bamboo, anyone can easily feel the difference when they handle a luxuriously soft bamboo t-shirt or bamboo bath towel. Not only is bamboo fabric soft, but it has antimicrobial properties that make it hypoallergenic and resistant to odors. You will also discover the temperature regulating qualities when you wear a bamboo shirt or sleep on a set of bamboo sheets — warm in the winter, cool in the summer!Further reading
To learn a great deal more about bamboo, check out fundamental article: What’s so great about bamboo?
Photo Credit: David Clode (Unsplash)
Imagine a house built entirely from bamboo. Natural yet modern, simple yet elegant, rustic yet secure. Maybe I’ve just watched too many episodes of Gilligan’s Island, but I can already hear the palm fronds rustling in the breeze, the bamboo canes clonking softly, and the bonobo chimps making monkey love in the distance. Almost as arousing as the size of my minuscule carbon footprint.
But is this just one great tree-hugging fantasy, or can you really build a house entirely out of bamboo? Well, it probably depends on your definition of a house, and what you mean by entirely.
If you want to sleep in a grass-roof shack like Gilligan and the Skipper, then, yes. You can do that entirely with bamboo poles. Although you might still want some palm or sedge thatching for a bit more insulation. But if you’re looking for a modern family home with all the amenities, then you’ll have to talk to the Professor.
Today bamboo homes are springing up all over there world. And they are not just ramshackle bundles of thatching and canes. For affordable housing in the developing world, and for stylish sustainability in more upscale communities, bamboo buildings are not what they used to be. And from how-to books, to intensive workshops to full-service architecture firms, bamboo resources are everywhere.The Bamboo Gurus
When it comes to bamboo construction, there are a few names that stand out, genuine experts in the field. So let’s head to Colombia.
Engineer and architect Simón Vélez has been designing incredible bamboo structures and pavilions around the world for decades. A number of his buildings and installations have received prizes, and his name is almost synonymous with bamboo housing. In fact, his book, Grow Your Own House, is one of my favorites on the subject.
Less renowned, but certainly prolific, Estaban Morales is a civil engineer, also from Colombia, with a very impressive resume of bamboo construction projects. Specializing in bamboo, earth and wood building, he has participated in the design and construction of hotels, houses, restaurants, temples and other buildings throughout Colombia and Latin America.©Filosofía Renovable y Arquitectura Mixta
Estaban’s website showcases a beautiful collection of building that he’s worked on, including the Izakaya Restaurant in Mexico, pictured above.The Best Bamboo Buildings in Bali
Anyone who’s ever visited Bali knows that bamboo is everywhere on this Indonesian island. And this tropical paradise features some of the most impressive bamboo construction you’ll ever find.
John, Cynthia and Elora Hardy, a family of architects and designers, have formed IBUKU, a cutting edge design firm committed to sustainable building with bamboo. In addition to some of the most spectacular private homes, the IBUKU family has collaborated to help build the world’s only all-bamboo campus at the Green School of Bali.
Specializing in environmental awareness and global stewardship, the Green School is the only educational institute of its kind. The school, founded in 2006 by John and Cynthia Hardy, provides K-12 instruction for forward thinking students from around the world.©IBUKU
Pictured above is the Sharma Springs residence, the crowning glory of all IBUKU’s bamboo houses. The tallest bamboo structure in all of Bali, Sharma Springs has six level with commanding views of the surrounding jungle. Inspired by the shape of a lotus flower, this astonishing home is both magical and majestic.
Most recently, IBUKU has launched Bamboo U, offering intensive workshops in bamboo design and construction. If you want to learn, you may as well learn from the best! (See below.)Bamboo Housing Solutions for the Philippines
Now let’s head to the Philippines, where 23-year-old engineering student Earl Forlales is making history with his cutting edge housing solution. Inspired by the bamboo huts that cover his native islands, Forlales developed the Cubo, a simple, modular bamboo house that can be manufactured in a week and assembled in about four hours for a meagre $10 per sq.ft.
Judges from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors awarded Forlales first prize in the Cities for the Future competition in November 2018. His incredible design aims to address the critical housing shortage facing the Philippines. Forlales now has his eyes on some land on the outskirts of Manilla, and we’re all eager to see the Cubos go into full-scale production.Building with Bamboo in Nepal
Bamboo houses are nothing new in tropics of southeast Asia, nor in the shadows of the Himalayas. Habitat for Humanity, an international non-profit organization dedicated to building houses for families in need, recently launched a program to build a series of bamboo homes in Nepal.
Framed partially with concrete columns, these simple, affordable homes rely almost entirely on locally harvested bamboo for their structural integrity. Volunteers, coming primarily from western countries, assembled the homes alongside a team of more experienced local builders. Together they cleaned, split and weaved the bamboo to construct the rustic but solid walls.
Later they mixed a kind of plaster from mud, straw, water and dung, which they used to coat the floors and walls, inside and out. Corrugated metal sheets served as the roof, and the end result was some wonderfully inviting housing, completed in less than two weeks. Check out YR Architecture Design to see the complete story with dozens of photos.Do-It-Yourself Bamboo Homes
Now let’s say you don’t have the ingenuity of the Professor or the wherewithal of Thurston Howell III, and you lack the means to design and construct one of these masterpieces of green-building for yourself. Or you live in a country with much stricter building codes. No problem.
After all, you’re probably not looking to build a house of god, although some of Simón Vélez’s bamboo temples are pretty spectacular. You just want a modest family home with a little bit a of style and the least environmental impact possible. It’s all possible, and you don’t even have to relocate to a developing country in southeast Asia.
Introducing Bamboo Living Homes, based in Hawaii. For 25 years now, partners Jeffree Trudeau and David Sands have been paving the way for bamboo home enthusiasts around the world. Not only are these innovative homes easy on the eyes and soft on the earth, they’re also light on the pocketbook. What’s more, Bamboo Living is the first company in the world to design bamboo houses that meet international building standards.
Their prefab bamboo structure come as small as 100 square feet, making an ideal tea room or meditation space, starting at a paltry $8,300. You can assemble these small models yourself in as little as two days. But from there, the options go through the roof. Bamboo Living offers some 3 and 4 bedroom models with over 2,700 sq. ft. feet, plus porch space of up to 1,100 sq. ft. Check their website and feast your eyes on all the magnificent models and designs.
To date, the company has provided more than 350 bamboo homes on the islands of Hawaii and elsewhere around the world. The style of construction is ideal for tropical habitats, aesthetically and in terms of climate. Every model has the option of single-wall construction for temperate climates or double-wall with space for insulation in hot and cold zones.
If you’re looking for the most eco-friendly and sustainable bamboo house possible, that’s also reasonably priced and permitted by building regulations, look no further. For those of us who live and breathe all things green, Bamboo Living Homes are like a dream come true.
Once the home is built, you can fill it with bamboo furniture and stock the rooms with sumptuous bamboo towels and bamboo bedding. Then, of course, you’ll have to invite your friends over for piña coladas and a three-hour tour.Bamboo Housing by KZ Architecture
Based in Miami, Florida, KZ Architecture designs modern homes and offices with a clear focus on sustainability. Committed to excellence and environmentally sensitive solutions, they have created some of the most sophisticated green homes in the country. Their stunning houses feature modern elegance in combination with superior materials, passive heating and clean energy sources.
Most recently, the company has drawn attention with its award-winning proposal for low-cost homes in the Caribbean, built mainly from bamboo. Designed specifically for high-risk flood and hurricane zones, these innovative homes are resilient, attractive and economical. They feature zinc roofs for passive heating and cooling, barrels for rainwater catchment, and solar energy systems for hot water and electricity.
Elevated on concrete piers, the homes are built to withstand flooding, but the flexible Guadua bamboo frame will also perform well in earthquakes. And not to overlook the importance of outdoor greenery, the plans also include generous spaces for personal gardens and bamboo hedges for both privacy and erosion control.
Affordable to easy to assemble, the 600-800 sq. ft. dwellings come with a price tag under $10,000. This includes all material and labor, as well as water tanks, solar panels, batteries and pumps. And after a grand total of $8,107, residents should have plenty left over for furniture and appliances.
Guadua bamboo is a neotropical genus indigenous to the Central and South America. This clumping timber bamboo makes an ideal building material, being cultivated widely in Colombia, Ecuador and throughout the New World.Bamboo U Design and Construction Courses
When you’re really serious about building your own home from bamboo, you’ll want to sign up for an intensive course at Bamboo U in Bali. Bamboo pioneer John Hardy launched the program in 2015, and now hosts 11-day workshops throughout the year, for aspiring bamboo builders from around the world.
With a couple decades of experience in bamboo construction in Indonesia, Hardy is eager to share his knowledge with other bamboo enthusiasts. He and his family have been creating incredible, one-of-kind bamboo structures with the architecture and design firm known as IBUKU. And by collaborating with others, they hope to see the innovations continue.
Check out Bamboo U online for a list of upcoming courses.Advice for Africans
A new book, entitled Bioclimatic Architecture in Warm Climates: A Guide for Best Practices in Africa, presents a comprehensive, hands-on approach to eco-conscious construction. The thorough study places emphasis on sustainability and bioclimatic design. To promote more sustainable practices, the authors take a close look at cultural aspects, affordability, and urban planning.
Among other things, they strongly encourage the use of more local, renewable construction materials, particularly bamboo. Using local bamboo, as they point out, strengthens the local economy and reduces the dependency on foreign imports. In addition to lowering overall building costs, it also empowers local farmers and community.International Efforts for Bamboo Construction
As more and more bamboo construction projects get underway around the world, one organization has been working to advance this up-and-coming industry as whole. The International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR) is a multilateral development organization promoting sustainable development around the world.
Since 1997, INBAR has made grade strides in improving living conditions, especially in the Global South, through the use of safe, resilient and affordable bamboo materials. The organisation consists of 45 members, predominantly in Africa, Asia and South America. In 2018, INBAR attended the UN General Assembly for the first time, and was active at a number of UN events.
To guide its work towards a green economy over the next decade, INBAR has identified six Sustainable Development Goals:End poverty in all its forms Provide affordable, sustainable and reliable modern energy services for all Access to adequate and affordable housing Efficient use of natural resources Address climate change Protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems
More recently, INBAR has set up a Bamboo Construction Task Force, to coordinate companies and organizations engaged in research and commerce with bamboo construction. Their overall mission is to raise awareness and improve standards to bring affordable, high-quality bamboo building into the mainstream.Conclusions
If you’re interested in building a house or any other serious structure from bamboo, it can absolutely be done. And there are a great range of resources at your disposal.
If you’re concerned about creating a bamboo home that will measure up to strict building codes in Europe and the United States, there’s no need to worry. Bamboo Living Homes has done the painstaking work to overcome those bureaucratic obstacles, delivering the ultimate in green housing.
Throughout the developing world, non-profit groups like Habitat for Humanity as well as the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization have been very active in promoting the research and construction. Bamboo building projects and taking place across the globe. And most builders and architects are very happy to share their knowledge and experience in this exciting new area of green construction.
It’s ironic that we’re calling bamboo construction a new industry, as it is surely one of the very first building materials to be used by humans. But the renaissance of bamboo, in our post-industrial world, is opening up new possibilities new before realized or fully appreciated.
In many parts of the world, bamboo construction still has a negative connotation, as a sign of poverty. Moving out of the bamboo house and into something made of solid wood or concrete is an indication prosperity. But the new era of bamboo construction is changing that point-of-view. Today you can enjoy the sustainability of bamboo without comprising on safety and aesthetics.
DISCLOSURE: This article may contain affiliate links to Amazon and other websites, so that if you purchase any items through those links we may receive a small commission. This helps to finance the website, but we do not allow it to bias our opinions and recommendations. And we do NOT receive commissions from Bamboo Living Homes; our enthusiasm is perfectly genuine.
The story of zero is a long and arduous one. The Mayans dabbled in it, the Ancient Greeks resisted it, and not until the 13th century did Europe fully embrace it. You might argue that it’s good for nothing. You might even say it’ll never amount to anything. But I beg to differ.
Putting aside the whole binary revolution, the zero today plays a vital part in one of the 21st century’s most progressive and common sensical innovations: the Zero Waste Shop.What is Zero Waste?
The phrase “Zero Waste” refers to a certain lifestyle choice that involves trying in every possible way to reduce your production of trash and recycling by composting more and avoiding packaging and things like single-use bags and utensils.
Realistically, living Zero Waste is not an all-or-nothing affair. Zero Waste is an ideal. The fact is, it’s next to impossible to live in this world without making an occasional trip to the garbage can. No, reverting to hunting wild game and gathering berries is not the solution. But taking small steps forward is, small steps toward the ideal.
In order to accommodate this growing lifestyle choice, eco-entrepreneurs are increasingly opening businesses to cater to and promote the Zero Waste mentality.
For the most parts, these Zero Waste shops are grocery stores that use as little packaging as possible. They encourage you to bring your own reusable containers — glass jars, cloth bags, etc. — and fill them with bulk goods. Pretty much any health food store you visit will have a bulk section offering grains, legumes, granola, and more. But some will go a step or two further, giving you the option to refill your own shampoo bottles and almond butter jars.Where can I support some Zero Waste shops in California?
1)With locations in Arcata and Eureka, the North Coast Co-op is fully committed to the reduction of waste and often sponsors local events encouraging others to do the same. The grocery stores feature a vast array of bulk goods, including nuts, grains, pasta, maple syrup, soap, shampoo and much more. They also offer an extensive selection of locally grown vegetables and dairy products
2) In Nevada City, S.O.A.P. touts itself as Northern California’s original eco friendly refill shop. Since 2010 this progressive business has been encouraging its customers to bring in and refill their own containers. In their crusade to eliminate the need for single-use plastics, SOAP estimates that they have helped their clientele refill more than 35,000 reusable bottles.
3) A truly pioneering retail shop, Refill Madness is a family owned and operated soap refillery and gift shop in Sacramento. The store offers an immense selection of ecological products for personal hygiene, household cleaning, and so much more. They always encourage customers to bring and refill their own bottles, and they try their best to only carry products that use biodegrade packaging.
THE BAY AREA
The San Francisco Bay Area is teeming with forward thinking health food stores with a growing emphasis on bulk goods and refillable containers. Sprouts and Rainbow Grocery are couple prime examples, but you can find dozens of smaller shops and food co-ops as well.
4)Fillgood.co offers a truly unique Zero Waste delivery service throughout the Bay Area. Basically, they’ll provide you with the reusable containers for a countless variety of groceries and household items. On delivery day, you leave your empties outside in their special reusable black bag, and they come in the hybrid-powered delivery vehicle to refill or replace as needed. When necessary, dirty containers will be taken, washed and sterilized to be used again. Check their website for complete details on how their service works and what products they offer.
5) Small but progressive, San Luis Obispo has a fabulous Natural Food Co-op. Over the years, their bulk section has steadily grown, and today you can even refill your containers with fresh nut butters, local honey and local olive oil. Of course, they also offer a wide array of local, organic and non-GMO produce.
6)The Secret Garden is a tiny but terrific resource for top quality teas, herbs and traditional medicines, all sold in bulk. Remember to bring your own jar.
7) If you’re looking for additional ways to reduce waste, Bambu Batu in downtown San Luis Obispo has a great selection of reusable utensils made from durable, sustainable bamboo. Also check out their water bottles and stainless steel lunch box sets.
8) In Ventura, the Refill Shoppe has a great selection of bulk products for the bath, home and body. Refill your own containers with soaps, shampoo and household cleaners, and revel in their eco-friendly assortment of natural cleaning products.
9) The SustainLA Refill Station is a mobile operation that provides refill service at different farmers markets and events throughout the southland. In their effort to eliminate disposable plastics, they can refill your containers with packaging-free soaps, shampoos and other cleansers. Visit their website to see their schedule and learn more about their services for catering and special events.
10) A newer Zero Waste shop, just opened in 2017, BYO Long Beach offers a sensationally sustainable selection of reusable personal items, like water bottles, bamboo utensils, and stainless steel straws. The also carry bulk teas, soaps and cleaning products. As their name suggests, you are expected to Bring Your Own containers.
If you’re not in California, a quick online search will provide you with a wealth of Zero Waste resources in your area, as the movement is spreading quickly across the U.S and Europe. Waste no time and do it today!
Also be sure to visit our article on Going Zero Waste with Bamboo and Stainless Steel.Why is Zero Waste so important?
Some years ago, when I was a junior writer at the SLO New Times, I took a trip to the Cold Canyon Landfill. I was working on what I thought would be a hopeful, uplifting story about the county’s fabulous new recycling program. Instead it was a shocking, eye-opening revelation, one that would leave me with permanent psychological scars.
The sheer magnitude of this modest-sized garbage dump, for a small college town with a population of 40,000-ish, was enough to send shivers through my brain. I watched the trucks come rolling in, one after another, hour after hour. And I could see that our accumulating waste was literally transforming the landscape. I tried as I could not to ponder the number of similar dumpsites littered across the state, the country, and the planet, but to no avail.
Not only is our garbage creating actual mountains, large enough to rival some of the county’s most stately landmarks. No, it’s worse than that. Of course, for anyone or anything downwind, the stench is unspeakable. And the land itself will be permanently poisoned and unapproachable, for centuries anyway.
But no, it’s even worse than that. Landfills like this are major producers of methane. Methane comprises about 20 percent of the greenhouses gases in our earth’s atmosphere. And what’s more, as a greenhouse gas, methane is about 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
And the landfills (as we so affectionately call them) are just where the responsible people’s garbage ends up. Don’t even get me started on the litterbugs and the islands of plastic and manmade detritus drifting across the world’s many oceans. Scientists currently estimate the Pacific Garbage Patch to be somewhere between the size of Texas and the size of Russia!
As you can clearly see, our clever species is literally smothering the planet with garbage. And the Zero Waste movement is but one simple and elegant approach to counteracting this calamitous trend. So what are you waiting for?