Strong, renewable, and inexpensive, Bamboo is the premier construction product material of our time. An evergreen grass found on nearly every continent, it can grow in the mountains, the tropics and even in the farmlands of the Midwest. Grown primarily in Asia and South America, the furthest south it is found is southern Chile. There are nearly one thousand different species of bamboo, and it can be grown in almost any moderate climate with the proper techniques and attention.
Technically a “weed”, the bamboo plant is sometimes classified as invasive; however it can be contained easily with a little maintenance. The plant, although at times resembles trees, differs from them in growth patterns. Bamboo reaches the degree of its size in height and circumference in its first or second year of life. Its growth after is limited to underground where it produces offshoots and roots. Flowering occurs only once every ten to fifty years.
Bamboo is a prehistoric plant dating back to the dinosaurs. It was used as a building material and paper in Ancient times, with bamboo scrolls having been found throughout Asia. There have also been cave paintings found where bamboo sticks are believed to be used to apply the paint or mud. Antique bamboo carvings are also included among the artifacts.
Uses today for the plant are extensive. Part of the off shoots is edible and included in many Asian dishes. Sometimes this part of the plant must be boiled or somehow treated before it is safe to eat. Other cooking uses include the bamboo steamer, sushi mats, skewers and drinking vessels. Raw, it is the main ingredient for the diet of the Chinese Giant Panda.
Bamboo wood is used for many diverse purposes because of its low cost, great strength and ease of growth. The one downside is that it can be easily infiltrated by wood chewing insects, but if proper treatment is given to the wood, it can sometimes deter the creatures. Generally older wood is used for structural uses because it is stronger than premature stalks. To be used in construction the bamboo is dried and treated, making it extremely light and strong. Structural uses include rafts, flooring, furniture, bridges, fencing and even clothing. Other conventional uses include paper, musical instruments, baskets, paint brushes, tiki torches, kites, pipes, and knitting needles. It can be rigid or flexible, so the uses truly are endless.
Bamboo symbolism is as diverse as its other aspects. It has always affected the religions of the countries where it grows natively. It is a symbol for longevity as it is so durable. It is also a symbol for famine due to its sparse flowering. Either way it has proven to be a valuable resource throughout the course of human existence.