Bamboo is All About Romance

Maui, Are you ready for a truly satisfying and long lasting relationship that will support your growth while nurturing you physically, economically, spiritually and in thousands of practical ways on a daily basis? Are you willing to have many of your needs met and hear poetry in the wind?

Are you open to the courtship?

A humble but mighty plant, Bamboo is a worthy suitor of our affections. Even though Bamboo is held in the highest reverence in many parts of the East, we are still getting acquainted with it's true magnificence. It may take some time to get to know each other.

In our first date, we were introduced to the non-invasive clumping varieties of bamboo. Clumpers are loyal, they stick around and don't run away or get distracted into your neightbors yard like the runners do. Clumpers are the marrying kind. Clumpers are not only loyal they are committed and ready to serve. Without bragging right away, we can divide up their offerings based on categories of our needs. For example, there are species to fit our landscape needs (privacy hedges, windbreaks, erosion control, and centerpieces of beauty) There are species we like to eat, species that are good for timber (building houses, fences, furniture and reducing our reliance on imported lumber) and species that are suited for value added products (like musical instruments, flooring, plywood, clothing, paper, baskets and crafts) As you get to know the species better you'll find that many species are good for all of these uses, but have their distinguished excellence. All the better to serve you. Let us not forget, they while they are busy doing all of these things they are also simultaneously detoxifying our soil and sequestering carbon, which is cleaning our air (bamboo gives off 35% more oxygen than trees per area) Bamboo is fully engaged in making this relationship work on all levels.

If you are not yet feeling how much bamboo loves you, perhaps it is time to get more intimate with some individual species. This week let us get a little closer look at some timber.

The exotic beauty of timber bamboo sparks a sense of romance and adventure in most people who see it. The gentle music of a breeze that passes through the swaying columns and rustling leaves of bamboo is quite soothing, while the patterns created by the leaves' shadows catch the eye, inspiring the inner artist. Bamboo is all about romance. Growing in groves from thirty feet to over one hundred feet tall, it is more beautiful than a palace of green marble columns and more usable too.

Eager to please, each species matures to it's own unique height, wall thickness, culm diameter and ultimate clump diameter. This variety is to assure your custom needs are met. "Culm" is the word we use to describe the individual bamboo pole. A "clump" of bamboo is made up of many culms. Nodes are the wedding bands the culm wears as a sign of commitment. Internodes are the length of culm from one node to the other. Nature decides the height and culm properties, but your management can determine how large an area the bamboo clump takes up.

Depending upon your vision of beauty and your desires, you can find a tall skinny or a short squat, a golden yellow or chocolate black and almost everything in between. As you can see there is a lot to learn about each species.

This week we look at three clumping, non-invasive timber species. Guadua angustifolia "the thorny one", Bambusa hirose and Dendrocalamus strictus (Male Bamboo).

Guadua angustifolia and subspecies include, a solid green, a bi-color with vertical yellow and green stripes and a version with much smaller thorns. One of the elite construction bamboos of the world. In Columbia, 6 million people live in homes built from Guadua. A gorgeous ornamental with strongly vertical culms nodding at the tips creates a beautiful and impressive stand with striking 1" wide white bands at each node. Once the plant is mature, and the juvenile material removed, the thorns will be well above head height (usually!). Guadua currently growing in Hawaii is maturing to 4-6" dia. and 70' tall with ½" thick walls.

Guadua is one of the strongest, and most durable bamboo lumber known. which is one of the reasons Maui's own pioneering plantation, Whispering Winds Bamboo has chosen it as one of their premier species. They are busy planting and projecting into our future and plan to have 5,000 Guadua poles harvested annually coming on line in 2009. Even though none of the locally grown species have yet been approved by our current building codes, this is not stopping the incredible vitality and enthusiasm exhibited by the plants or the "bambooistas". "Bambooista" is the affectionate term for those already smitten and passionately in love with bamboo.

Bambusa hirose matures to 4" diameter, 80' tall with 1/4"-3/8" thick walls, and up to 24" between nodes. It is a close relative to Bambusa oldhamii. The Whispering Winds folks are planting all three to have available a variety of culm diameters, which is one of the distinctions that can be made amongst the timber species. Guadua has the thorns, no edible shoots, but the fattest culm. Hirose has yummy shoots, is a tighter clump, makes a good windbreak and requires less maintenance. All three thrive under good conditions but can also do well in marginal areas. Early research suggests that the gnarlier the conditions, the stronger the bamboo.

Dendrocalamus strictus is a very tight clumper maturing to a clump diameter of six to eight feet. Culms mature to 1 1/2"-3" diameter, 35"-60" tall and are nearly solid. This species flourishes in semi dry and dry zones, up to an altitude of 3000', requiring only 25" of rain. It prefers well-drained, poor, coarse and stony soils. This species is one of the two most important bamboos in India. It is found suitable for reclamation of ravine land. It is extensively used as raw material in paper mills and also for a variety of purposes such as construction, agricultural implements, musical instruments, furniture etc. Young shoots are commonly used as food. Decoction of leaves and nodes and silicious matter is used in the traditional medicine. It does require a bit more maintenance to keep it looking beautiful.

If you are interested in developing a relationship with bamboo or just want to learn more, please come to a free program hosted jointly by the Hawai'i Bamboo Society, the International Bamboo Foundation and Whispering Winds Bamboo, Tuesday, February 22nd at the Tavares Community Center, Pukalani, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. Dean Johnston will present a slide show titled The Structural Bamboo Project, and Jericho Stringer will present slides from the recent Colombian Guadua Symposium held in September 2004.

This is the second in a series of articles, supported in part by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program of Utah State University, celebrating the beauty, usefulness and strength of bamboo. Articles will be posted to our websites ( with additional photos for future reference.