Sunday, July 22, 2007


Would you believe that bamboos belong to the grass family? Well, they do. There are nearly 1000 varieties of them, from shrubs that are 10’ high to types with pole like stems (aerial clums) which grow to 100’. And they grow fast – around 3’ per day in some types! Though they are mostly native to the tropics, there are species that grow in colder climates.

Natural propagation of bamboo is through underground stems known as rhizomes. The rhizomes spread far. Unless these are properly managed, the result would be impenetrable clusters over a large area. The shoots that come to the surface can be planted. Even cuttings from the aerial stems would take root.

Bamboos have great economic and ecologic importance. They are used in many forms in several parts of the world. These include building material, paper making, water pipes, furniture, storage bins, stakes, and so on. Bamboo shoots are a delicacy. The stems are used as cooking utensils as well. Certain food items like rice dumplings are wrapped in bamboo leaves; one can buy dried and packaged bamboo leaves in Asian stores. For some dishes, the cooking pans are lined with bamboo leaves.

In my village, there are several applications for bamboo, like scaffolding, stakes for plants, pillars for temporary sheds, and as barrier to prevent floating weds like water hyacinth from entering the rice fields. But the major use is as punt for country crafts like in the photo by Karthiki here.

The small branches that grow from the nodes of the bamboo stem make excellent fishing rods. They are strong and pliable. All one has to do is tie the line to the narrow end, fix the bait (earthworm or tiny shrimp) and cast into the lake or one of the canals. Lean against a slanting coconut palm if you like.

The death of a bamboo is both beautiful and sad. After decades of useful life, a cluster of bamboo flowers. It is a beautiful sight which I have seen once. Then the whole lot dies. I believe that the scientists are yet to figure out this phenomenon.


Photos of bamboo by K. O. Isaac.

Also see:

Mango trees: 'ottu mavu' and 'nattu mavu'

Water lilies: here is a picture of nature's perfection, imperfection

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