Archive for the ‘Bamboo Products’ Category

Moso Bamboo the king of grasses

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

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

Cultivating Moso Bamboo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Many Uses of Moso

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

Bamboo Flooring

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

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

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

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

Bamboo Clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phyllostachys edulis is edible

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

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

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

Guadua Bamboo

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia

Giant bamboo for building and construction

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

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

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

Know your bamboo

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

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

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

Your bamboo criteria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your bamboo building budget

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

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

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

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

Best bamboos for construction Genus Guadua

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

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

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

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

Guadua angustifolia

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

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

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

Genus Dendrocalamus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genus Bambusa

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

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

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

Genus Phyllostachys

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

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

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

Phyllostachys with its distinctive groove

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why grow bamboo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing the best variety of bamboo

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

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

Running or Clumping Bamboo? Runners without borders

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

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

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

Run for your life

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

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

Phyllostachys bamboo with the distinctive groove.

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

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

Containing bamboo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clumpers make good neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

Tropical or Cold Hardy?

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

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

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

Sourcing and Propagating Bamboo

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

Here are a few very reputable bamboo nurseries.

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

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

How to grow bamboo from seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Propagating bamboo cuttings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing the soil for your bamboo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maintaining your bamboo

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

Feeding and fertilizing

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

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

When to water bamboo

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

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

Pruning your bamboo

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

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

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

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

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

Harvesting bamboo

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

buddha belly bamboo with bulbous culms

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

The botany of Buddha Belly Bamboo

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

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

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

Why is it called Buddha Belly?

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

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

Why is Buddha Belly so popular?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth Habit

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

How fast does Buddha Belly grow?

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

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

How big will it get?

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

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

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

Can I keep my Buddha Belly in a pot?

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

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

How much water does it need?

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

Will Buddha Belly survive in cold, freezing temperatures?

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

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

Why is my Buddha Belly growing without bulbous culms?

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

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

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

Buddha Belly Bonsai

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

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

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

Can I grow this bamboo indoors?

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

Can I propagate my Buddha Belly?

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

Hemp or bamboo: Which is better?

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

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

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

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES Ancient History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hemp’s Colorful Past

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

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

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

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

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

Hemp Prohibition

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

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

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

Historical Significance

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

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

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

SUSTAINABILITY & ECOLOGY OF HEMP & BAMBOO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VERSATILITY OF HEMP & BAMBOO

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

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

Natural Fiber Clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bamboo Building Materials

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

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

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

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

Nutritional Properties of Hemp

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

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

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

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

Magical Properties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why bamboo?

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

Bamboo for sustainability

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

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

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

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

Bamboo for cleaner air and a healthier earth

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

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

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

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

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

An alternative to monocropping

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

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

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

Renewability

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

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

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

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

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

So can bamboo save the planet?

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

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

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

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

Versatility: the many uses of bamboo

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

Bamboo for lumber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bamboo over cotton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional uses of bamboo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich in history and tradition

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

Bamboo’s long legacy

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

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

An enchanted grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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.

Questions about bambooAnswers to the most frequently asked questions about bamboo

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.

Take a look at our article on Bamboo flowering to learn more about this fascinating process.

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 articles:

What’s so great about bamboo? Growing Bamboo: The complete how-to guide The best bamboo varieties for construction

Photo Credit: David Clode (Unsplash)

Build your own Bamboo Living HomeBamboo construction is on the rise

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.

Things to know about bamboo building

Before you jump head first into bamboo construction project, you need to know what you’re getting into. In many respects, bamboo is green architect’s dream come true. But to make that dream a reality, there are some things about bamboo to be aware of.

Selecting your bamboo

First of all, most experts recognize at least 1200 different varieties of bamboo. And there may be as many as 2000. And it’s true that bamboo is a remarkably useful and versatile plant. But not all is created equal.

While some bamboo looks beautiful in a Japanese zen garden, other varieties are excellent for construction. Some types of bamboo are even useful for a variety of purposes. But then there are bamboos that just take over your backyard, but you can’t really make anything from it.

Genus Guaua

So if you want to build a bamboo house that will hold up over the years, you will need to work with the right kind of bamboo. If you’re doing bamboo construction in a developing country, in Asia or Latin America, you will want to use local bamboo. But not just any local bamboo.

In Central and South America, the builder’s choice is definitely Guadua. There are a dozen or so species of Guadua growing throughout the continent, and it’s easy enough to come by. The locals have been building with these clumping bamboos for centuries, and you know it will last.

Most members of this genus are giant timber bamboo, some growing over 100 feet tall and more than 6 inches thick. The thick walls of this bamboo make it resistant to cracking and ideal for building.

If you want to build anything of significance from bamboo, Guadua is going to be your best bet. Even if you’re in North America and want to build a durable bamboo structure, you probably want to got some Guadua poles to work with. You can get them shipped from Colombia.

Genus Dendrocalamus

On the other side of the world, where bamboo tends to be growing nearly everywhere, you might be tempted to build with whatever variety of bamboo is within reach. For best results, however, you will want to build with Dendrocalamus bamboo.

With numerous species indigenous to India and Southeast Asia, Dendrocalamus grows to great heights and girth. Their culm walls are also very thick, and in drier climates they grow almost solid. In Bali, they have built some of the most astonishing bamboo structures with D. Asper, all grown on the island.

Preparing your bamboo

Just because you are working with one of the strongest materials in the natural world, it doesn’t mean nature has done all the work for you. Before you start building, it’s necessary to dry and cure the bamboo poles thoroughly. They also need to be treated to prevent rot and termite damage.

This is especially critical in wet climates and when you are building with local bamboo. Some suppliers will treat their bamboo before they sell it. In other cases, you’ll be responsible for taking care of it. Typically, borax is used to permeate the bamboo and eliminate the risk of critters.

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.

Bamboo Import Europe

If you’re living in California, you probably already know where to get your bamboo. Of course, if you’re in San Luis Obispo, Bambu Batu has everything to satisfy your appetite for bamboo socks, towels and bedding, as well as an endless array of gifts and decor for the conscious lifestyle. And when it comes to finding bamboo flooring and building materials, we are happy to recommend Cali Bamboo down in San Diego. But this is only the tip of the proverbial bamboo shoot.

In today’s global village, someone on any corner of the planet might take an interest in something they read about on some other corner of the planet. For example, I regularly get people from Europe and Canada asking me where to find good bamboo products. If they’re in Canada, it’s not too unreasonable to have something shipped from California. But in Europe, the cost of shipping and customs makes it pretty impractical. Which leads us to our question.

Where can I find the best bamboo in Europe?

Versatile and multifarious, bamboo comes in all shapes and sizes and formats. We could be talking about bamboo for your garden, bamboo for your kitchen floors, or bamboo to replace your worn out bed linens. So let’s just tackle one category at a time.

BAMBOO BUILDING MATERIALS IN EUROPE

Apart from a few ornamental gardens and arboretums (see below), no one in Europe is really growing a significant crop of bamboo. The most useful varieties, being predominantly subtropical, just won’t thrive in a European climate. So if you’re shopping for bamboo flooring, bamboo thatching, or bamboo poles for a special building project, you’ll be buying imported bamboo, just like you would in California.

Our extensive research of the continental market led us to Bamboo Import Europe, based just outside of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Their vast showroom is open to the public, Monday through Saturday. If you can’t make it up to Holland, they also ship anywhere in Europe, usually within 3-6 days.

Bamboo Import’s selection of building materials is as impressive as any I’ve ever seen. Peruse their website to view an immense assortment of bamboo poles, fencing, plywood, pergolas, picnic benches and more. No project is too big or too small.

Their site also features an epic photo gallery that could inspire even the most reluctant bamboo skeptic with visions of tropical dream homes and architectural marvels that range from the truly exotic to the immaculately modern. And if you find any of these visions irresistible, Bamboo Import’s installation team can come to your home and help turn your bamboo fantasy into a reality.

Bamboo Import works directly with longstanding partners in China, Indonesia and South America to source the very best materials and maintain the highest levels of quality control on all their bamboo products.

BAMBOO AND NATURAL FIBER CLOTHING

I’m pleased to report that eco-boutiques specializing in natural fiber clothing are not an altogether rare site in Europe, at least not in the larger cities. I’ve seen several in Barcelona and in Germany, even in some smaller cities. If you can visit one of these small boutiques, that’s always your best option. There’s nothing like seeing, feeling and trying it on in person. You can also reduce the carbon footprint by avoiding shipping.

If you can’t find a shop close by and you’re happy shopping online, we can earnestly suggest Thought, formerly Braintree Clothing, based in the UK. Originally founded in Australia, this small team of forward thinkers have been developing their brand since 1995, in accordance with the strictest standards of sustainability and social responsibility.

It’s clear that this visionary company of eco-fashionistas has put a lot of thought into everything they do. From their sleek website to their elegant garments, everything has been done with care. Today they offer an extensive line of men’s and women’s wear, made from naturally grown bamboo, cotton, wool and hemp, as well as tencel and modal.

Thought’s stunning selection of sustainable clothing will leave you feeling good, and their mantra will give you something to think about. “Wear Me, Love Me, Mend Me, Pass Me On.” Their website has a whole section devoted to promoting better care for your clothing, which translates into taking better care of our planet.

BAMBOO TOWELS AND BEDDING IN EUROPE

Finding bamboo towels and bamboo bedding remains a challenge, which is too bad, because these are two of my favorite bamboo applications. We’re still looking for the best source (or any source, really) for sheets, but we have found a German towel manufacturer with a line of bamboo towels.

Möve (that’s German for seagull) is based in east Saxony and has stores all over Germany, mostly in the east and the north. Furthermore, they produce all their towels in Germany. German craftsmanship is something I’ve come to love and trust, but unfortunately their selection of bamboo bath towels is a bit limited at the moment. Black, white and hot pink are not my favorite bath colors. But they do have a wide variety of bamboo hand towels and wash cloths. And until further notice, this is our best lead.

BAMBOO GARDENS IN EUROPE

If you’re looking to buy live bamboo for your garden, you can start by just visiting your local nursery and checking out some seasonal garden shows. They take place all over Europe in the spring and summer.

Or if you just want to see a pretty bamboo garden, check your nearest botanical garden. Just about every city has one, they are often affiliated with the local university. In France, Germany and northern Europe they are particularly impressive, and I recall that Berlin has an especially nice Japanese Garden.

But if it’s Europe’s most incredible bamboo garden you’re looking for, you’ll want to head to the south of France. About 30 miles northwest of Nimes, the Bambouseraie has been propagating vegetation and welcoming visitors since 1856. Today the spectacular garden includes about 300 varieties of bamboo, making it one of the most diversified bamboo collections on earth. (Experts put the total number of bamboo species somewhere between 1200 and 2000.)

Among the 80+ acres of bamboo groves, you’ll also find a flourishing boscage of century-old magnolias, ancient ginkgos, and majestic oak trees. The Bambouseraie even has a bamboo hedge labyrinth, so you can truly get lost in the sticks!

International Sensation

In California, we sometimes like to think we have a monopoly on all things hip, cool and eco-conscious. It’s true, California has produced and popularized some pretty cool things: Vans, Frisbees, the Tesla Roadster, the Grateful Dead. I could go on and on. Just check out this documentary on California Innovations.

But Californians certainly cannot take credit for bamboo. Bamboo is a prolific plant with an ancient history and widespread appeal. Some of today’s most important innovators and producers of modern bamboo products may be based in California and Oregon, but we could hardly refer to this miraculous plant as a West Coast original.

Bloggers Without Borders

The fact is, I do some of my best writing when I’m traveling, on the road and away from California. At the same time, our international readership is growing. When we launched the Bambu Batu blog back in 2008, we were writing for the small, local community of the Central Coast. But today we get readers from across the country and around the world, so we see it as our duty to cover a more cosmopolitan array of bamboo topics.

A recent sojourn through the Old World made me aware of a growing bamboo scene in Europe. Germans and Scandinavians are somewhat well-known for their progressive energy and environmental policies, so it should come as no shock that alternative materials like hemp and bamboo are as popular in Europe as they are in the Golden State. Still, it’s always a bit of surprise to wander through a city of gothic cathedrals, black turtle necks and heavy trench coats, and then come across an island tiki bar or a colorful boutique filled with tree hugger t-shirts.

Now if only I could find a decent Frisbee anywhere between the Amstel and the Ebro.

Further reading

To learn more about the wide world of bamboo, check out fundamental article: What’s so great about bamboo?

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