Posts Tagged ‘phyllostachys’

How fast does bamboo grow

Bamboo has many amazing characteristics. And the woody grass has a reputation for being the fastest growing plant on earth. That reputation is well-deserved, because some varieties of bamboo can grow more than a meter a day, under ideal circumstances.

How fast does bamboo grow, and how big does it get?

As there are more than 1000 distinct varieties of bamboo, these are difficult questions to answer. Some dwarf bamboos only get a few inches tall, and some giant timber bamboos can reach more than 100 feet in height. Of course, the timber bamboo grows much faster, but there are a number factors than come into play.

Bamboo’s growth rate

According to the Guinness Book of World’s Records, bamboo is actually the fastest growing plant on earth. Although Guinness does not identify a particular species, they report a growth rate of 35 inches a day. Other sources claim that bamboo can grow more than a meter in a day.

At 35 to 40 inches a day, bamboo is indeed the fastest growing plant on earth. But there are a few things you need to understand about bamboos and their growth habit.

First of all, this rate of growth is only possible with certain varieties of bamboo. Phyllostachys, a genus of running bamboo from Southern China, includes some of the fasting-growing species. Moso Bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis) is considered one of the largest and most vigorous varieties. Phyllostachys vivax is another impressive timber bamboo.

Guadua is a tropical genus from Central and South America, often called the world’s strongest bamboo. It grows incredibly fast, often getting up to 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Then there’s Dendrocalamus, from India and Southeast Asia, which is also incredibly large, strong and fast growing.

Moreover, bamboo does not grow this fast on a regular, consistent basis. During the growing season, which is generally in the spring—although some tropical climates get two growth seasons a year—the bamboo puts out fresh shoots.

Bamboo’s growth habit

If the bamboo is fully mature, at least four or five years old, it will put up maximum-sized shoots. For a month or two, these monstrous culms will skyrocket upwards until they reach their full height. The culm diameter will not get any larger after this. During the rest of the year, the bamboo may continue to bush out with more leaves and branches. But the individual bamboo culms will achieve their maximum height and girth within the short growing season.

Finally, the growing conditions are critical. Moso Bamboo, for example, is considered the fastest-growing species of temperate bamboo. Although it’s native to the subtropical areas of Southern China, Moso can grow very well in temperate climates. But in those cooler regions, it will never grow as fast and tall as it does in the heat of the subtropics.

Tropical, clumping bamboo, like Guadua and Dendrocalamus, will have a much harder time in temperate climate zone. In fact, they will be lucky to survive, let alone reach their full potential.

Temperate, running bamboos like Phyllostachys are also noteworthy for their aggressive, monopodial rhizome roots. Thankfully, they won’t spread at a rate of 2-3 feet a day, but their growth rate is formidable and something to aware of. Check out our article on running bamboos to learn more.

Bamboo height

With more than a thousand varieties, it’s impossible to make a generalization about how tall bamboo will get. Moso Bamboo, again, is one of the biggest, easily exceeding 100 feet in height.

Another remarkable species is Guadua giganteus, native to Colombia and Central America, one of several varieties referred to as Giant Bamboo. This New World specimen will commonly grow 25-35 meters high, or 80-115 feet.

But according to Guinness, the prize for the world’s tallest bamboo goes to Dendrocalamus giganteus, also called Dragon Bamboo and Giant Bamboo, from Southeast Asia. Living up to its name, this enormous species has been known to get more than 50 meters high, or 164 feet.

That’s still a far cry from the Hyperion, a 380-foot tall Coastal Redwood in Northern California, but pretty astonishing for a stalk of grass. Keep in mind, a maple tree, for example, will rarely grow taller than 150 feet.

Conclusions

There’s no doubt about it. The size and growth rate of certain bamboo species make them some of the most remarkable plants on earth. Growing more than a meter a day, you can actually sit and watch it grow. Grab a cold beverage (maybe with an umbrella in it), pull up a cozy rattan chair, and in 40 minutes you can see a tropical bamboo grow about an inch.

Indeed, this makes bamboo the fastest growing plant, or organism of any kind, on earth. Apart from these especially vigorous varieties of timber bamboo, the next fastest-growing plant is probably giant kelp. Macrocystis pyrifera grows a little more than two feet a day, reaching a maximum length of around 150 feet over the course of a long growing season.

Just don’t expect to see bamboo growing like this in your own garden. Not that you would want to. But unless you live in Costa Rica or Indonesia, it’s probably not going to happen. Within the U.S., you might see comparable growth rates in Hawaii or Florida. But you’re still not going to set a new world record.

Further reading

To learn more about the incredible properties of bamboo, check out some of these other interesting articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? Moso Bamboo: The king of grasses Growing Bamboo: A complete how-to guide
Running bamboo of genus Phyllostachys

Bamboo has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the fastest growing plants on earth. Indeed, some tropical varieties can grow more than a meter day in the growing season. Pull up a cozy chair and you can actually watch it grow.

Running bamboo has earned a particularly nasty reputation for its growth habits. That’s because those rhizome roots spread like crazy. Although in this case, you can’t actually watch them grow. But it’s led many gardeners to wonder whether planting bamboo might not be a good idea at all.

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What is a running bamboo?

Among the 90 genera and roughly 1,500 species of bamboo, we like to divide them into two simple categories. Basically, we have runners and clumpers. The most widespread genera of runners are the Phyllostachys and Pleioblastus. Runners generally perform better in temperate climates.

The distinctive characteristic of running bamboo is the vigorous rhizome root system. The monopodial rhizomes tend to grow horizontally, spreading outward and overtaking an area. Sometimes, but not always, these monopodial bamboos can spread very aggressively. They can definitely be invasive. They can tear up your lawn, crawl under fences, and become very difficult to remove.

Clumping bamboos, by contrast, are happier in the tropical and subtropical climes. Bambusa is the primary genus of clumping bamboo. Like all bamboo, clumpers also have rhizome roots, but they are what’s called sympodial. These sympodial rhizomes mostly grow close together, branching out often, to create a tight cluster of culms. It’s unlikely for a clumping bamboo to become invasive.

Why would you want to plant running bamboo?

With so much potential to be invasive and disruptive, why would anyone want to plant a running bamboo? That’s a very good question. But as it turns out, there are a few good reasons to plant a runner instead of a clumper.

Definitely check out our article on the 10 Best Bamboos for your Garden.

Climate

When selecting anything to plant in your garden, one of the chief factors will always be the climate. And when you think of bamboo, you probably think of places like Hawaii, Southeast Asia and Central America. In other words, the tropics. Indeed, bamboo thrives in these regions, especially the clumping varieties of bamboo.

But most of us don’t live in the tropics. And for those of us who do, there’s usually already plenty of bamboo around. But for the rest of us, we need something more adaptable. No problem. There are many varieties of bamboo indigenous to the more temperate zones of Asia, including China, Korea and Japan. And as it happens, these temperate bamboos usually belong in the running category.

The largest genus of these more temperate Chinese bamboos is Phyllostachys. They do very well in a range of climates, and they are definitely runners. Nurseries throughout most U.S. states and Europe can sell Phyllostachys and other temperate runners and feel good knowing they will probably thrive.

So planting a running bamboo actually makes a lot of sense if you live in a more temperate zone. But these runners aren’t the only varieties that can grow in a cool climate. If you’re living outside the tropics and trying to avoid planting a runner, keep an eye out for varieties of Bambusa like Oldhammi, and most any bamboo from the genus Fargesia.

You might also have a look at our article on Cold Hardy Bamboos.

NOTE: Phyllostachys is also one of the easier bamboo varieties to identify. Look for the distinctive grooves that grow along the length of the internodes, alternating from one side to the other.

Fast Growing

As we have seen, bamboo’s vigorous growth habit can be a double-edged sword. But many growers are looking for something that will really display its vegetative might. Some gardeners just have a lot of respect for the great vitality and tenacity of bamboo and want to see it grow in full force. But usually they have more practical intentions, like trying to fill a large area quickly. 

Bamboo makes for an excellent privacy screen, and many people are in a hurry to establish their privacy. If you want a tall hedge to grow along your fence line, bamboo is an attractive option. And if you want it to cover the property line and fill in quickly, an aggressive runner can be even more appealing. 

Phyllostachys nigra, a popular species of running bamboo. Note the characteristic grooves on the internodes. Aesthetic Features

In many cases, gardeners will plant bamboo for specific aesthetic features. Whether to beautify the garden or to harvest the attractive poles, striped bamboo and black bamboo are very desirable. Phyllostachys nigra, better known simply as black bamboo, is one of the most popular species of all, due to its rich, dark color. The dried poles are especially attractive for crafts and light construction.

Certain other varieties of running bamboo also have very attractive features, like long and elegant poles. And for those who enjoy combining a medley of different bamboo species, they will have a hard time completing their landscape without at least one or two runners in the mix.

How can I maintain a running bamboo?

So you’ve decided to plant some running bamboo in your yard. Must you concede defeat and consign yourself to be overrun with woody grasses? Absolutely not! It’s not as easy as plucking daisies, but there are ways to contain running bamboos and keep them in check.

Containers

There are numerous types of containers you can use to prevent a running bamboo from taking over your garden. Planting bamboo in a pot is certainly one option, but be aware that a running bamboo will get root bound very quickly, even in a good sized pot.

I like to use half wine barrels (or whiskey barrels, depending what part of the country you’re in.) They have a more natural look in the garden, compared to your big black plastic pots from the nursery. And they’re spacious. Even so, I find myself un-potting the bamboo almost every year to split the rootball into three or four pieces. (Another advantage of running bamboo is that it’s pretty easy to propagate.)

Keep in mind, if you place your pot directly on top of soil, the roots will quickly find their way through the drain hole and into the earth. Be sure to place a stepping stone or something under the pot, or set it on a patio. Also avoid ceramic pots, as they are liable to burst from the expanding roots. And never use a pot that gets narrower at the top; you’ll never get your bamboo out without breaking it.

Root barriers

Your best bet is probably a high grade root barrier. You can order heavy duty plastic barrier and bury it around the perimeter of your bamboo area. This can be a very reliable system, but it’s not fool proof. Be sure to get the barrier at least two feet underground (unless you’re planting a dwarf variety).

Our best recommendation is the DeepRoot Bamboo Barrier, 30″ deep by 100 ft roll., which is available at Amazon.

And keep an eye on it. When they feel the urge to spread out, those monopodial rhizomes can be relentless. If there’s even the tiniest gap in your root barrier, they’ll burrow into it. And if there’s a thick layer of mulch concealing the top of the root barrier, the roots might easily crawl over it.

A lot of times, people move into a house and inherit someone else’s poorly planned bamboo garden. This could require some serious work to remove masses of roots. You can do some very heavy root pruning in this case, and then try to install a root barrier. But sometimes you just have to go Rambo: Dig a trench and fill it with concrete.

Root pruning

One of the most important things you can do to keep a running bamboo under control is simply monitor it closely. Dig around the base of the plant a couple times a year and see what’s happening. You can’t always tell just by watching what the bamboo is doing above ground.

When you find bamboo rhizomes racing away from the main grove, cut them back. If you’re dealing with a mature and well established bamboo plant, this could be a serious chore. Make sure you have the right tools, including a good spade, some sharp clippers, and a compact hand saw.

You might even need a Sawsall or other reciprocating saw, to really get in there. We recommend Makita’s Cordless Recipro Saw Kit, sold complete with saw blades and an extra battery, and available for quick delivery from Amazon.

Further Reading

To learn more about the wonders of bamboo in your garden and around the world, be sure to take a look at some of these other articles.

What’s so great about bamboo? How to Grow Bamboo: The Ultimate Guide 20 Best Bamboo Gardens in the World Bamboo Symbols in Mythology and Folklore

PHOTO CREDIT: Purely Pacha

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?
Planting bamboo

UPDATE: In 2018 we published a much more thorough article on selecting the Best Bamboos for Your Garden, as well as a special article on Cold Hardy Bamboo.

By now you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the many virtues of bamboo — its versatility, its sustainability, its indispensability. And you’ve no doubt admired its beauty, as it flourishes among pagodas in Japanese gardens, on the patios of Thai restaurants and sushi bars, and on-screen in some of your favorite kung fu movies.

But you may have also heard horror stories about people planting bamboo and soon finding it completely out of control. Perhaps a neighbor planted some and within a couple years it was all up in your flower bed choking out your roses and suffocating your award-winning bearded irises. Indeed, bamboo can be aggressive, sustainable in the worst kind of way, downright indestructible.

So how can you ornament you garden with this incredible plant without running into deep regrets 3 or 4 years down the road?

First and foremost, unless you really really know what you’re doing or really really don’t care, keep your bamboo in a container. Bamboo looks great in pots, and in something like an old wine barrel it has plenty of room to prosper, without encroaching on your crocus or tickling your tulips.

Secondly, it’s helpful to realize that there are some 1500 varieties of bamboo, with various personalities and growth habits. People tend to divide them into two groups:  runners and clumpers. Runners are the aggressive ones that run amok in your lawn and garden, whereas clumpers generally stay pretty compact.

This division can be helpful, but dividing 1500 species into 2 groups can also be a very misleading oversimplification. If you plant a clumper alongside a regularly sprinkled lawn, the grassy clumper will quickly gravitate toward the sprinklers and start looking a lot like a runner. Likewise, if you plant a runner in a chilly climate like the high sierras or upstate New York, it might end up behaving more like a clumper.

Also, bamboos are notoriously difficult to identify — thousands of varieties and most of them look very similar. Even nurseries get them mixed up, especially those that don’t specialize in bamboos. And it might take a few years for you to realize that your friendly clumper was really a pathological runner in disguise.

There’s an old saying about bamboo: The first year in sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps. Do not underestimate the eastern wisdom!

With that in mind, here are eight species of bamboo to consider for accenting your garden.

· Black Bamboo (Phyllostachys Nigra) – one of the most highly sought after species, black bamboo is named for the very dark color of its stalks. At maturity this legendary runner can get up to an inch or two in diameter and as much as 30″ tall.

· Mexican Weeping Bamboo (Otatea acuminata) – with its delicate, draping foliage, this clumping variety makes a nice ornamental accent. In a container it’s unlikely to get taller than 6 feet.

· Timber (Phyllostachys Vivax) – like most members of the phyllostachys, this ones a runner. It’s popular for its great size. When planted in the ground and well feed it can get 4-5 inches in diameter and up to 60 feet tall.

· Temple (Semiarundinaria Fastuosa) – a personal favorite of mine, this regal looking bamboo grows very tall, straight and compact. Growing up to 20 or 30 feet high, and about 1.5″ in diameter, it’s about the largest hardy bamboo you can find, for those of you in freezing climates.

· Arrow (Pseudosasa Japonica) – known as a “running clumper,” this makes an excellent privacy screen, tall and dense. It grows up to about 15 feet with thick foliage. Easily recognizable for its unusually large leaves – up to 12″ long.

· Old Ham’s (Bambusa Oldhammi) – another very popular variety, Old Ham’s grows very tall and straight. A giant tropical bamboo, it clumps tightly but grows vigorously.

· Golden (Phyllostachys Aurea) – one of the most popular varieties because it is so widely available. That’s because it’s an aggressive runner that’s easy to propagate. Good for a rapidly expanding privacy hedge, but very difficult to remove. Beware of infestations!

· Square Bamboo (Chimonobambusa Quadrangularis) – especially interesting for its squarish (rather than round) culms. Also unusual because it flowers every few years. But it usually dies after flowering, making it a pretty short-lived variety.

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