7 Functions of Bamboo

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. The physical and chemical properties of its roots and stems means that it is able to transform nutrients into growth-enabling energy sources incredibly effectively. Some species have been known to grow over 30 inches in a single 24-hour period! Such rapid varieties are not particularly useful to the average permaculture gardener, but other species of bamboo may well have a place on the permaculture plot, as they offer a variety of functions.

There are two basic varieties of bamboo: running and clumping. Running bamboo spreads its roots out underground, pushing up new growth at what can be significant distances from the original stem. Some species are such good travelers that they can ‘escape’ your garden and pop up on neighboring plots. That’s why it is recommended that you use the clumping varieties (although you could use running varieties in pots, if you wished, to contain them). The clumping species don’t spread, instead the root growth remains around the main stem and new shoots (called ‘culms’) are sent up adjacent to it, forming something like a tussock. Clumping bamboo is much easier to control, allowing the permaculture gardener to make the best use of it and avoid it impacting upon other species of plant or creating unwanted microclimates.

Birds
Bamboo is an attractive plant for bird species. Planting a section of bamboo on your site can serve to bring in more bird species, with all the positive effects they bring, such as controlling populations of pest insects. There are two main properties that the bamboo provides that attract birds. Firstly, the shoots and leaves provide birds with good nesting material, while the plants themselves are an excellent source of cover, protecting the birds from predators and the elements. This influx of birds will also have the effect of filling your site with birdsong – another positive function of bamboo.

Building
Although parts of bamboo stems are hollow, they are still very strong. As such, bamboo is used extensively in the manufacture of furniture and flooring, but its ‘construction’ potential also has uses on the permaculture plot. Bamboo clusters will need thinning out intermittently to prevent them becoming too dense (as, for instance, causing problems with the flow of wind) and the harvested stems can be used to make trellises for climbing plants to attach themselves to, and fences.

Screening
While cut stems can be used to make fences and screens, a growing cluster of bamboo plants can also be used to give protection and privacy. A species such as Oldham’s bamboo grows to around 10 feet in height, so planted on the border of your plot can give privacy from neighbors, as well as offering windbreak potential (although, as mentioned, you will need to ensure the planting doesn’t become too dense and create eddies of air).

Deer Proof
The density of a bamboo cluster can have beneficial effects, though. For instance, if you have a problem with deer getting into your plot and eating your crops, a screen of bamboo can close off the entry point. The dense clustering of the plants, particularly the clumping varieties, means the deer cannot penetrate the screen they create. If you want to create a dense screen for this purpose, ensure that you use a lower-growing variety to avoid problems with wind diversion.

Soil
The roots of bamboo plants are rhizomatic. This means that they form clumps of nodules, from each of which root hairs extend. This makes them very efficient at storing and processing nutrients from the soil. It also means, because of the way that bamboo plants grow closely together, that the roots systems of individual plants interlink with those of their neighbors. This creates a very stable growing medium that has the benefit of maintaining the soil structure. Lots of root hairs mean that lots of pore spaces are created for microorganisms to move through, moisture to percolate into and aeration to occur. It also helps prevent erosion of the soil. This is a primary reason why bamboo is useful for planting on slopes. Not only does it help bind the soil together, preventing erosion by wind and rainwater runoff, it also helps slow the movement of water and nutrients through the soil, meaning they remain available for the bamboo and other species for longer.

Mulch
The other way that bamboo is beneficial to the soil is that the leaf litter they create is excellent natural mulch. All bamboos shed leaves, and functions of bamboobecause the plant is so good at processing nutrients, the fallen leaves are nutrient-rich, meaning that as they rot down, the soil ‘absorbs’ these nutrients, making them available for other plants as well as the still-growing bamboo. If the leaf litter becomes to problematic (in the fall, perhaps, when leaf drop is at its highest), you can rake the leaves and add them to the compost pile, so that the garden still gets the benefit of the nutrients within them.

Eating
It’s not just in the garden that the benefits of bamboo are available to the permaculture gardener; bamboo is a great addition to the kitchen as well. The young shoots of bamboo have firm flesh that is a good source of vegetable protein and is rich in essential nutrients such as magnesium and calcium. It is a feature of many Asian cuisines, and lends itself to steaming, sautéing and as an addition to soups.

Pleasure
Not all the benefits of planting bamboo on your permaculture plot are materially defined. One must not forget the pleasure that this plant can provide simply by its presence. The sound of wind moving through the stems of bamboo plants has a calming, meditative effect – which is why bamboo is used in many traditional Asian cultures to craft musical instruments and wind chimes. The movement of the tall stems in the breeze is also very pleasurable to observe, and a space adjacent to bamboo can be a good place of reflection for the permaculturist.

106 comments

Is there a particular type of bamboo used for building structures ? 😀

Check this out April Linkenhoker-Lang

Jaime Mulan

Never mistake knotweed for bamboo

30″ of growth a day!!! Unless that particular species of bamboo relies on only a few nutrients, it’s got to deplete the heck out of the soil.

If I am not mistaken, that variety takes 3 years to come up, developing an extensive root system in that time to support that tremendous growth.

Could make a good biomass crop if grown in a modded aquaponics system for someone like Cool Planet Energy Systems perhaps?

Ziggy- they’d have to grow it in a greenhouse- especially in most of CO. The fast growing bamboo doesn’t deal with cold- or arid climates (which is where Greenwood is located- the east range).. nor alkaline soil (very high pH levels there- which binds nutrients.) It would be major energy input. The types that handle more cold still would have issues there for similar reasons- arid, wrong soil, even the water tends to be high pH, etc. The more cold hardy type grows more slowly. Many trees struggle there.

Switchgrass and Sugarcane are nice biomass crops for the purpose of conversion into energy or fuel.

Barclay Sloan

i don’t know…if you have a boggy type place, and you need bamboo to use for crafts and especially to sell…why not….you just HAVE to sink metal 4ft deep aluminum surrounds so that it won’t travel.

I can’t help but notice this photo yet again, is not a picture of true bamboo, to my knowledge. Oh, Finicky me.

I have bamboo growing wild in the edge of the woods behind my house. It is TOO invasive and can take over my yard in 2 weeks if I’m not careful.

Yeah… avoid it.

What about clumping bamboo? Surely the many uses of bamboo makes it a perfect addition to any permaculture garden?

Neither are roses, but people want what they want…

What a silly notion. Food, fiber, building materials: Bamboo is one of the most useful plants on the planet.

Why not clumping bamboo. It has so many uses.

you can run a lenght of metal such as aluminum in the ground for the barrier to the rest of your land….

I have berms surrounded by narrow “moats” for some bamboo. It gets no extra water. It can easily turn into a headache, though, if you don’t maintain control. It breaks down easily into mulch if it is fresh out of the ground. Otherwise it’s tough and slow to decompose.

Jasper Hall, a permaculture property in northern new south wales Australia had around 115 different species of bamboo in their gardens. General rule of thumb, clumping types were loved, spreading types were hated. If you can grow but are not growing a clumping bamboo in your garden, I would recommend you do so. you can build anything out of bamboo from floors, to roofs, water pipes or just about anything you can imagine. It is one of the most perfect permaculture plants and totally sustainable.

It can be a very important inclusion and a great tool for land regeneration. Root penetration, soil coverage, biomass, shade, windbreak, fodder, food, building/utility materials, privacy…. I guess it always comes back to, “it depends”. If it doesn’t fulfil the requirements, don’t use it.

David F. Redwine Rose Zeiner Redwine

Someone is intentionally stirring the pot here.

There s probably native plants alternative to planting bamboo for soil regeneration. They re usually called pioneer species (for instance silver wattle in Townsville). Bamboo s great for building things but you cannot allow it to spread and take over the native bush. We ve caused enough problems already with invasive species and permaculture is really not helping AT ALL.

Puttachat Coles

Jared Wallace

Linda Lekay I remember you mentioning considering bamboo and saw this article so figured I’d share 😀

We did put bamboo out back, but with the new wall we took it all down

oops! sorry! haha

Would love bamboo but it’s an invasive species where I live. 🙁

could not read article as an error message said server not found

No bamboo, please. Very invasive, non native.

Bamboo is easily contained and can be very, very beneficial. Fishing rods, trellis poles, cages, and near endless building uses. Don’t discredit it because it’s non-native.

Treat it as you would horseradish

The “bamboo” in the post’s photos isn’t a bamboo. It’s “lucky bamboo,” a Dracaena. lol

I live on a small site, so most of my bamboos are clumping – Fargesias of several species. I also have maybe 10 species of running bamboos, several of which are timber size I keep them under control by monitoring them closely during their shooting season and harvesting the shoots (yum!) that would either run out of bounds or crowd the existing groves. If you don’t use an underground barrier or have natural barriers to prevent uncontrolled running, then the annual shoot harvesting is the only other good way to manage running ‘boo. You can’t just plant and forget it! 😉

Thank you, I was just about to say the same thing, lol

I couldn’t resist. Dracaena sanderiana photos are so often used as stand-ins for real bamboo. 😀

University of Malaysia did some work years ago and discovered bamboo was stronger in concrete than reinforced steel because of its shape. Not sure if that work was followed up for if the bamboo rots out eventually

On occasion I’ve gotten advice or commentary about bamboo from others as far as growing it. None of them included the variety they were referring to. There is quite the variety and it important to find out what you have before just popping it in the ground .It could save years of frustration. This is a good idea with other plants too. A new Gardner may be excited to just start popping things in the ground but I can tell you from experience that its better to learn about its character before planting .Its that old saying “A stitch in time save nine .”

I have a friend who uses bamboo for building a type of wattle and daub.

Bamboo is the second hardest wood known to man. Only morning wood is harder, and like bamboo, sustainable.

the image of the post is not totally a real bamboo. is is a

the image of the post is not totally a real bamboo. it is a plant that for ornamental. this is not a bamboo.

Good Luck keeping ANY sort of Bamboo “Under Control”!! My family and I have grown all types, researched & taken all sorts of ridiculous precautionary measures….and they ALL TAKE OVER the landscape as if it was afraid of extinction!! >.<

LOL ,, you should write a book!!

My friend has a big clump of bamboo in his garden in the Bronx. He has to cut it here and there, but over all it is more beneficial them problematical. I’ll plant some bamboo in the plot of land I will be gardening this year.

Can anyone tell me if bamboo will grow in South Western Ontario? We live near Lake Huron with a fairly sandy soil.

— you have to be very careful, I know that ther are varieties of Bamboo that can run wild & become extremely hard to get rid of

Can this be planted in Canada?

I’m not sure if bamboo would grow in our climate. I do realize it can be invasive, but have a place I would like to try it.

soil wise yes, but you’d have to look for cold hardness. The biggest thing in t look how invasive the cultivar is. You want one that clumps, not one that runs unless you plan on doing some excavating& growing them in old kiddie pools.

KNOWLEDGE IS KEY. BAMBOO IS AN EXTREMELY SMART ORGANISM. KNOW IT BEFORE YOU TURN IT LOOSE.

Enjoyed the reading. Thanks for sharing!

I really think that if it were not for bamboo the whole world would be speaking chinese! think about it for a bit… the only reason briton took over the world was because of the lack of materials… this forced them to grow a trade with the rest of the world that grew into empire domination…. where as the bamboo is perfect… it is the most stable material on earth.. it’s abundant, easy to grow/cultivate, renewable and non soil depleting… the chinese did not take over the earth because they lacked nothing… and this was mainly due to Bamboo!

This stuf is so invasive it will takeit even grows under sise walks over every thing it cannot be contained don’t plant it

You forgot one. Chinese use it to torture and kill their enemies.

So invasive need ideas to get rid of it

One way to get rid of it is to use it.

It grows that fast because it’s hollow and juicy. But still strong–well structured.

Paul, anything can be used to torture and kill enemies.

agentkay1

eating bamboo that is not properly can make you sick they have cyanide in them

Isnt the first picture a fake bamboo? A draceana? Haha.

How can I get rid of it? For good!!!!!!!!!’nnnnnnnn

Help!!!!!

Duane Burr

Yes. Depends on species and location, and probably mulching.

You’re in Nova Scotia? You should have no problem with these. (I haven’t checked on any import restrictions, but the company will have F&W export restrictions) Most would even grow fine in a place like Calgary.
http://www.bamboo.org/GeneralInfoPages/LucasTemperateBamboos.html

Thank you!

Our bamboo not only beautify the home from outside and inside. They also provide free tomato sticks during vegetable garden season

I’ve yet to see a variety suitable for southern edge of zone 4. It was 10 below this morning.

We have Bamboo In BC it is very evasive and will overtake all local plants, as for containing it….impossible…the roots travel underground and will spring up almost overnight…very bad stuff

There are 2 species that are said to be good to zone 3, so far they are still producing new leaves each year, but I would say they are not taking over the garden yet.
it’s funny that these invasive plants can be controlled in the orient, where everyone eats them.

I live in zone 9 in Southern California. I need a barrier from my neighbors alongside my driveway. The space is long and narrow (only 2 feet wide). The only thing that me and my permaculture advisor came up with is bamboo since we can’t have anything that gets too wide (only two feet wide) and can’t have anything that lifts up our driveway. If anyone has any other ideas instead of bamboo, please let me know. We are hoping that whatever we choose doesn’t get taller than 15 feet, but hoping for 10. Another question, if we get clumping bamboo, do we need to bury barriers at each end to prevent spreading? And if we do, how deep does it need to be buried? And does the barrier need to come up above ground too, or just under?

i do that, too!!!

How is this picture an example of bamboo.

Want to grow some for stakes and building material.

i have built SO much out of 2 lengths of bamboo (guadua -in colombia). i cant wait to harvest some and get to it when im home

ofcourse the right bamboo for the right location ~ completely suitable !

In Hawaii they let the running bamboo loose and it is taking over all other vegetation. It needs to be used but isn’t.

What about light saber cactus?

Incorrect common name, I know, but I don’t know what they’re all called. Lol

Is the plant pictured a bamboo or a dracaena?

If you think of it, let me know! Thanks!

I need something that will be bushy enough to block out the neighbors.

Ss with any plant that has the potential to be invasive. It all depends on the person’s choice of variety and what they need it for. Also if the seller has labeled it correctly helps. As with anything that is not used wisely, it can quickly become a problem.

Susan what do you think ? Could it be understanding bamboo and planting it in cordoned off zones will allow most people to enjoy the vast benefits of Bamboo..

They didn’t even use real bamboo in the photo …

I live across the stree from the railroad tracks. Thirty-something years ago someone got the idea that planting bamboo along the tracks would make a good sound barrier. Our entire neighborhood is now inundated with bamboo. I’ve lived here for 27 years and have no idea how to control it. I try to pull it up by tis roots but, somehow it still tries to take over the yard and gardens.

Oh, I live in Connecticut where we are having high temperatures in the teens and lows around 0. So anyone wondering if it grows in colder climates — YES IT DOES

Fact: the plant in that image is not bamboo, it is a species of Dracaena.

Invasive species

I have lived in my BC home for 28 years , the bamboo was here then, and is still .,For 28 years I have hacked chopped dug , sawed through roots , dug trenches around it and filled them with bleach, Nothin ! The damn stuff is still here and will outlive me PS I am 64 , Ideas anyone

Anonymous

The photo used to illustrate this article is not bamboo. It’s Dracaena.

Anonymous

Let’s not forget clothing. Bamboo socks are amazing. They absorb moisture and are warm. Bamboo undergarments are very soft and are available in many retail outlets.

The stock photo is not bamboo!

We planted a 1/4 acre of boo around 1976
and it is still 1/4 acre …..
My little Tai Chi forest …..

That stock photo is not actually bamboo.

Also a noxious weed in nz

Bamboo Options

An excellent little primer on bamboo… A couple of corrections I might add, in no particular order. Clumpers are definitely easier to contain, no question; what the article doesn’t tell you, though, is that some clumps can be quite large. My Blue bamboo is close to 20′ across. I have a Clone X (a B. ventricosa cultivar, grows erratically, but mine is probably going to end up being a 25′ oblong clump. By comparison, I have Graceful bamboo (B. textilis gracilis), by far my favorite, that keeps a fairly tight 8-10′ clump. Those are all tall-growing species, so you’d expect some girth on them for stability. Smaller varieties, like Chinese Goddess (6′ height, maybe ¼” diameter culms), or B. multiplex Tiny Fernleaf (3′ height, maybe 1/8″ diameter) spread far less, in the case of Tiny Fernleaf maybe only 1′ diameter for the entire clump. In most clumpers you can expect the tiny root network to spread out often the same length as the height of the clump. And the roots definitely are great at holding in soil on a slope. I actually use my Clone X to grow over composted material to build height to a slope that had formerly eroded badly.
The article mentions screening with bamboo … which it does indeed excel at. I have live screens of several different heights, and it’s pretty cool to see how well it can mute the sound of the outside world. They could’ve mentioned how well bamboo can be trimmed as a more traditional hedge; this can even be done on the larger species if you have access to tall ladders or, better, a bucket truck. The article could’ve mentioned that some bamboo grow quite straight, others tend to weep (especially after a heavy rain). I’ve got some tricks I learned years back that help to train bamboo to stand taller/stronger, strong enough to even minimize damage from hurricane-force winds. BTW, bamboo screening is used widely in Asia to mitigate such winds, and to prevent erosion and flooding damage from monsoon rains and tsunamis.
Unfortunately, the mentioned Oldhamii as a species for screen use. Not really. Oldhamii is one of the tallest, thickest clumping bamboo, quite remarkable, really … they can grow 90′ tall, with culms of 5-6″ sometimes. But it really is a bit too thick to grow in densely enough for a decent screen effect. The Graceful bamboo I mentioned earlier is excellent for this purpose; I have several 30′ screens using Graceful, and it is mesmerizing to see it all together!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their omission concerning eating bamboo shoots. The most eaten bamboo is, by far, P. edulis, or Moso bamboo. It grows 100′ high, 6-8″ in diameter, and can be found in huge forests in China. It used to carpet the hills all around Hong Kong: remember Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? All those massive bamboos they were dancing/flying through? Moso. Only the shoots are eaten, when they barely start to poke through the ground. Once it is 8″ out of the ground it is already too tough to eat … and the stuff can grow 4′ per day! Clumping bamboo cannot be safely eaten unless parboiled first; chemical compounds in the root structure are (mildly) toxic, but parboiling them causes the chemical to rebond into a non-toxic compound. Not that people eat any of the bamboos raw, most are pretty tough that way. Once boiled or parboiled, they can be prepared like any other tuber-like veggie. I like ’em pan fried myself. I’ve tried all 16 varieties I have here, some are definitely better than others; some are kind of acrid, some tart, but my favorites are somewhat sweet.
They could’ve touched on bamboo height a bit, as that is one of its coolest features. Some, like Moso, grow 100′ tall; others, only 6-8″! Culm thickness is determined by the time the shoot exits the surface; it will never get thicker (but the walls of the bamboo will grow thicker, denser, on the inside). And all of a bamboo’s height occurs within a 2 month window; it doesn’t grow taller after that. Branches and such get thicker in subsequent years, but never taller. It’s pretty wild to watch some of the varieties grow 2-4′ in a single day, especially after a good rain.
The article only touched on one of bamboo’s finest features … the sound it makes as wind blows through it: exquisite! And different varieties make different sounds, depending on internode length, culm thickness, clump thickness, and branch/leaf density. And, well, when you have bamboo, you have all the makings for terrific wind chimes!

This is the perfect time to read (or write) about, and appreciate, bamboo. Most clumping species are actively sending up new culms right now; I see new culms poking through daily. Each new culm feels like a new baby joining the family. By this time most of the running species have already stopped pupping (they seem to prefer early spring, at least around here.) The clumping species are in full swing; interestingly, different varieties start pupping at different times. I have some varieties that start as early as late May, others that don’t get started until August. Buy by October, all the clumper have stopped putting effort in sending up new shoots and are busy getting to business thickening the culm walls and beginning to branch a bit.
I guess you could say I’m hooked on bamboo … It was the first thing I’d notice when I used to fly into Hong Kong, or seeing the sights in rural Japan. And it was one of the major reasons I agreed to move to North-Central Florida .. because of the local Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, which has one of the largest public displays of bamboo in the United States. Many of my neighbors refer to my yard as Kanapaha North because of the huge variety of bamboos I have, and the impressive display they make. I help a little bit … but the bamboos .. they do all the heavy lifiing in that regard!

One last thing: There are bamboo varieties that can live in almost any environment imaginable, from the tropics all the way up to (at least) central-Alaska. You can look up your local agricultural zone and choose a bamboo variety based on that. Here in Gainesville we’re in Zone 8b; there are ~40 species readily available that do well here, with more varieties from China coming out of quarantine every year. In Zones 9-10 there are even more. Zones below 8 will have fewer varieties to choose from, and they will mostly be runners rather than clumpers, but new varieties and cultivars are showing up every year as well. One of the best sources I know for buying bamboo is TropicalBamboo.com, where you can actually order plants to be delivered by the USPS. They are also a quarantine station, so you know plants you buy there are disease-free and healthy. They grow fast, and it’s cool to watch things going from a few stems and up … up UP!!!

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