Thread: Bamboo
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Old 01-27-2012, 05:42 PM   #2
Cady Goldfield
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 1,025
Re: Bamboo

Always a pleasure to read about bamboo, especially in its cultural context. Thanks, Niall.

Removing 10,000 bamboo culms (the "technical" name for a bamboo cane) is a lot of work, especially if you're talking about removing the vast underground network of rhizomes (underground runners) and roots. Nothing less than dynamite and a fleet of backhoes will eradicate a mature bamboo grove that has fully established itself. If one simply cuts or burns down the grove, it will reshoot and replenish itself from that extensive system of underground runners.

Bamboo is not a tree, but a member of the grass family, and one enormous grove many acres in size may be the shoots from only one plant. The entire grove is one entity, with each culm being genetically identical to its neighbors. Next time you stroll through a big, tranquil grove of 'Henon' bamboo (P. nigra 'Henon') or Narihira (Semiarundinaria fastuosa) in a temple or shrine garden, it's something to keep in mind. One living, breathing invidual covering acres!

My (Japanese) boyfriend used to maintain a 2-acre grove of Moso bamboo (Phyllostacus edulus syn. pubescens) in South Carolina, and every December it would shoot. Thousands of shoots. He would camp in the grove, painstakingly harvesting shoots, thinning out dead culms and keeping things within bounds and tidy. When he got the hankering, he'd dig a hole around one of the shoots just emerging from the soil, fill it with coals, and cook the shoot right there in its own earthen "pot." Moso shoots are a delicacy, but the rhizomes are also allowed to dry and then used to make vases for ikebana, or for other crafts. I have several beauties he made, and they represent minimal human intervention; that is, they are beautiful in their own right. All he did was add a dark stain to bring out their natural grain.

I grow about 35 species of bamboo on a 116'X60' piece of land in a small-city neighborhood; well, actually, the house takes up valuable space that could be devoted to bamboo, but wherever my house doesn't obstruct bamboo cultivation, I've managed to cram in bamboo. I guess it's addictive! I bought my first specimen, a Himalayan species, in 1997, and it kind of snowballed from there. Last year, I harvested about 400 bamboo shoots for eating from one patch of Phyllostachys nuda in front of the house. Most of the species I keep are shrub-sized or ground cover bamboos, and some do not run but stay in neat clumps as is their nature. But some are the classic tall, willowy grove-making types we envision when we think "bamboo." It takes careful management to keep it all in bounds, but in the 15 years I've been cultivating this remarkable group of plants, it has never crept into the neighbors' yards. I just eat any renegade shoots.

Every spring, I have to diligently maintain the plants, keep them in bounds, harvest old culms to use for garden stakes and craft material. It's a lot of work, sometimes very physical and sweaty, but whenever I stop to hear the gentle rustle of bamboo leaves, watch the winter snow gather on the bowed heads of the plants, and see and hear the small birds nesting and roosting in the heart of the grove, it is so worth the effort.

One more note: As sad as it may be that your friend had to destroy a bamboo plant (I'm guessing that those 10,000 culms are one or a few individual plants), bamboo is one of the most resilient, sustainable and fastest-growing plants on this green Earth! Where his grove is gone (and again, I'll be tentative about that, for the reasons given above!), others are sprouting up elsewhere. A grove of bamboo can establish itself in a fraction of the time it takes a forest to mature. That's why someone with a 116'X60' lot has to be on their toes.

Last edited by Cady Goldfield : 01-27-2012 at 05:54 PM.
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