Even if you have never been to the rainforest, this question must have popped into your head at least once. Most people have used things made of bamboo at least once in their life, and distinguishing them from woody stuff is a Herculean task. In this article, we will try to figure out what is so special about bamboo, why everyone considers it a tree, and why on earth biologists have decided it’s more similar to the grass in your lawn than to the beautiful trees in the forest.
What Type of Plant is Bamboo?
Bamboo: grass or tree? Bamboo comes in over 1000 different varieties. It is a grass that grows from its root. When you cut a bamboo, it quickly regrows, with most species becoming mature in 3-5 years. This incredible plant grows in both tropical and temperate environments and is extremely hardy, requiring no pesticides or herbicides to thrive. Bamboo is most commonly found in tropical, subtropical, or temperate climate zones. Southeast Asia, South America, and the Southeast United States are some of the places where you can find this unique greenie.
However, some bamboo species have been known to grow well indoors in less temperate regions of the world. So, if you’re looking for a small and cute variety for your garden, you can certainly find a suitable bamboo species.
Bamboo is a truly unique plant. Here’s what makes it so different from all other greenies around the globe:
How tall does bamboo grow? Here’s one of the bamboo growth facts for you: bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet. It can grow 35 inches per day, or nearly three feet per day! Bamboo grows so quickly because the bamboo bud has all the cells it requires when it is young. The plant grows by elongation rather than cell division, simply collecting water as it shoots up into the sky.
Bamboo cane's dense fibers make it extremely flexible. You can test it on your own: try to bend a bamboo stem until it breaks. It will take quite a while. This makes bamboo a perfect choice for furniture, construction materials, and other products that need sturdy, long-lasting materials.
Bamboo is a grass that excels at adapting to harsh and wildly different climates. It even spreads through the deserts and mountain sides! This versatility makes bamboo one of the most widespread greenies you can stumble upon in the world.
Even smaller species of bamboo exhibit many of these characteristics and are an excellent addition to any garden or landscape.
Why Would You Think Bamboo Is a Tree?
Here are a few reasons why people sometimes mistake bamboo for a tree:
- Bamboo has a thick, woody stem that can look like a tree trunk.
- Just like trees, bamboo can grow super tall - some types can get up to 100 feet or more.
- Some bamboo leaves can look similar to tree leaves, with a flat shape and branches.
- Bamboo can form a dense canopy, which can make it look like a forest of trees.
All that glitters isn’t gold though. Bamboo shares much more with grass species.
Is Bamboo Grass?
Bamboo is actually a type of grass not a tree. Why so?
- Different Stem: Bamboo's stem, called a culm, is hollow and lacks a vascular cambium layer and meristem cells at its top, which are present in trees. These cells allow trees to increase in diameter and height over the years. In contrast, bamboo reaches its full height in a single season and maintains its diameter without expanding like a tree.
- Invasive Character: Bamboo has an invasive character just like common weeds and grasses, which means it can quickly spread and take over areas where it's planted. This is due to its growth pattern, which involves elongation and mitotic cell division.
- Protective Leaves: Unlike trees, bamboos do not have bark. Instead, they have protective leaves that surround the culm during the prime stages of growth. This is a common trait among grasses, which have protective sheaths around their stems as well.
- Colony Plant: Bamboo is a colony plant – it grows in clumps or groups, not as individual plants. Using the energy of the parent plant, new plants expand the root structure and make new greenies proliferate. The bamboo forest, then, is not unlike your lawn!
- Fast Growth: Bamboo grows by elongation, which is a well-known tactic among grasses. They produce all the cells they require to develop when they are still small buds, and these cells are packed with water, which makes them increase suddenly and spread out. This results in rapid growth that can quickly take over an area.
- Rhizomes: Bamboo uses rhizomes to grow horizontally, which is another characteristic it shares with grasses. Rhizomes are underground stems that can extend outwards and produce new shoots or plants.
- Spikelet Formation: Spikelet formation is very helpful in the classification of grass species and genera. Some bamboos form pseudospikelets through the increase of scalelike formations at the center of the spikelet. They are thought to be leaves decreased to quite little sheaths.
- Floral Structure: The floral structure of bamboos is very similar to grasses. Because of the details in the flowers, bamboos are considered to be the most ancient among the grasses.
- Growth from the Ground: The final similarity between bamboo and grass is that, unlike trees, they both grow from the ground instead of the top.
Are bamboo trees grass then? Scientists uniformly agree that they are.
Is Bamboo Wood?
Is bamboo a grass or a wood? Although bamboo is often used in products that are similar to wood, such as furniture and flooring, it is not classified as wood. Rather, bamboo is a type of grass that has a unique composition and growth pattern compared to wood from trees. Its fibers are densely packed together, making it durable and strong. In contrast, wood is composed of cellular structures that have more complex and varied properties. So, despite similarities in appearance and texture, bamboo and wood are different materials, with bamboo technically classified as a grass.
What Are the Benefits of Bamboo?
Even though the answer to the question “Is bamboo grass?” is “Yes”, bamboo has a bunch of benefits that no other grass has to offer.
- Protects soil: Bamboo grows fast, has a permanent canopy, and has roots that spread out a lot. The roots can cover a lot of ground and can last for over 100 years. Even if the bamboo stems get cut or destroyed, the roots can help the bamboo grow back. This makes bamboo great for keeping soil in place and stopping it from washing away on slopes, riverbanks, degraded land, and places that often have landslides.
- Helps stop climate change. It's really good at absorbing greenhouse gases. In just 7 years, one bamboo plant can take in 2 tons of carbon dioxide. That's a lot more than a hardwood tree can do in 40 years! Bamboo can even take in up to 5 times more carbon dioxide than a pine tree.
- Can replace wood. You can replace wood with bamboo in many cases, for example, in making paper, flooring, furniture, and construction materials. Bamboo is also stronger than wood and won't change shape as easily when it gets wet or dry.
Is Bamboo a Plant?
Yes. Bamboo is a grass that includes more than 1,200 different species.
How Tall Does Bamboo Grow?
It depends on the species. Some of the smaller varieties don’t exceed 6-8 ft in height, while giant bamboo can reach 100 ft. It’s almost like a 10-story building! The height of the concrete specimen also depends on specific environmental conditions it grew in.
Where Does Bamboo Grow?
Bamboo is most common in Asia and South America, but you can also stumble upon this magnificent plant in the Southern US, Africa, and Australia. Bamboo is versatile and can survive in tropical, subtropical, and temperate climates alike.
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