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Fast-growing bamboo; from Zen to zero #waste
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Gardening & Agriculture Gardening & Agriculture Ornamental

It's been called the fastest-growing woody plant on the planet. One species has been clocked racing skyward as much as 4 feet a day.
Bamboo forrest
When a bamboo culm, or shoot, pops through the soil, it will soar to more than 95 percent of its mature height in six to eight weeks. That means a new shoot emerging in a 60-foot-tall grove will catch up to the other guys in no time.
To environmentalists distraught over global loss of habitat, erosion and poor air quality, bamboo is a regreening godsend.

A bamboo grove generates more oxygen than the equivalent stand of trees.

It may smell a bit funny, but it's lovely. To embittered neighbors faced with a stream of unwanted shoots from the other side of the fence, though, bamboo is the plant from hell.
Asian cultures have long revered bamboo and used it as a source of food, medicine, garden elements and building supplies. The Wright brothers used it to build their flyer.
Bamboo bicycle
Bamboo hanging plant pots
But there are gardeners today who mow, chop and pour herbicides on unwanted shoots with one thought in mind: to kill the beast.

For all its many uses - scaffolding, furniture, window blinds, musical instruments and eating utensils - why is there such a chasm between bamboo advocates and opponents? It seems to come down to a bad-apple-in-the-bar­rel tale of two types - the runners and the clumpers.
Running bamboos (monopodial) spread by underground rhizomes that push up new shoots at great distances from the original rootstock. Some running cultivars are not invasive, but the aggressive horizontal travelers draw ire. Temperature, light, soil fertility and moisture all play a part in just how fast rhizomes travel.
rhizomes bamboo
Bamboo basics

Bamboo: Members of the grass family, bamboos belong to the subfamily Bambusoideae. Most bamboos have distinguished, woody stems and range in size from inches-tall dwarfs to giants towering more than 100 feet.

Culm: Bamboo cane or stem.

Flower: Bamboo has simple flowers. Wind-pollinated, it has no need for colorful blooms to attract birds and insects. Bamboo may flower once every 20 to 120 years. The parent plant may die after flowering.
Bamboo flower

Internode: The space between the nodes on a bamboo culm or rhizome.
Rhizome: The underground stem from which the culms arise.
Running bamboo: Spreads by long underground rhizomes.
Clumping bamboo: Have much shorter rhizomes and generally are not labeled "invasive." The clumps slowly enlarge as new culms emerge every year.
Sheath or culm sheath: A modified leaf that covers a new culm as it pops through the soil and begins to elongate.
Shoot or culm shoot: A new culm from the soil. Tender shoots of some species are harvested for food.
Clumping bamboos (sympodial) are genetically unable to run unchecked; rather, they expand slowly each year and generally in inches rather than feet.
Rampant running types have left a nasty impression. But given better-behaved bamboos, more gardeners are seeing the beauty of these graceful grasses in the movement and filtered light they bring to the garden. And those who have caught the wind whispering through the leaves and rattling the hollow, round culms might succumb to a bamboo's charms on a mystical note.

There are at least 90 bamboo genera and 1,000-plus species; plants range from mere inches tall to towering giants of more than 100 feet. Foliage size ranges from a half-inch to more than a foot. The handsome culms - the jointed, usually hollow, round canes (or stems) - may be green, blue, gold or black.
Bamboo a long a path
Such diversity is not surprising, considering there are bamboos that grow in tropical forests and at alpine heights.

ou can see bamboo in public gardens. It's an important element in Japanese gardens, and Frederick Law Olmsted planted numerous varieties at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

Depending on the species, bamboo is useful in the home garden as a screen, hedge, ground cover or specimen. Strong, but flexible, bamboo is shelter for birds.

By Kathy Huber

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