Bamboo, a woody-stemmed perennial grass, is a useful plant in the garden as well as being a nutritious addition to your diet.
We generally think of bamboo as being grown only in the Orient or in parts of Central and South America, but the plant thrives and is widely cultivated in the United States and other parts of the world.
Bamboo is one of the basic plants of Chinese and Asian agricultural pursuits, where it is used not only for food but also for building purposes in the construction of houses, water pipes, and irrigation lines. Recent articles about bicycle frames being built from bamboo illustrate its amazing strength.
How can we use bamboo in the home garden and why would we want to, anyway?
Because it grows very quickly (vertically) and fills itself in densely (laterally), bamboo makes an excellent privacy screen. It serves well visually because of the attractive appearance of the natural living plants, rather than the artificially constructed look of a fence built of man-made materials. The density of the bamboo screen also makes it an ideal noise buffer to lessen sounds from nearby streets and highways.
If you choose to add bamboo to your home landscape, take note of the fact that there are two basic types of bamboo plants, the clumping type and the running type.
Both kinds spread by means of rhizomes, which are underground stems that grow horizontally and periodically put new roots down and new shoots up.
The clumping kind of bamboo has shorter rhizomes that allow the plant to spread but not nearly so quickly and aggressively as the running bamboo, whose rhizomes are longer and therefore extend the plant over a greater area in a shorter time.
Not only does bamboo make an excellent screen or border (much like a hedge, but taller!) when incorporated into your home landscape, it can also be used as a specimen type planting in various areas of your garden to complement lower growing plants or to add harmony to a Japanese garden. Just be sure you purchase the clump type plants for these specimens so they will not overrun the desired area.
Several different types of bamboo can also be purchased for houseplants, including the spiral twists or cut stalks that make an attractive tabletop decoration when set in a clear glass container and surrounded by small polished colorful stones.
A small variety of bamboo bearing leaves with a fern-like appearance can sometimes be found; this variety makes an unusual houseplant, or it can be planted outdoors to form a low-growing specimen in your garden.
These and all bamboos prefer full sun for optimum growth, but will still do well in partial shade. They also like lots of water for their actively growing roots, but will not thrive in standing water.
As a food, bamboo is a plant of moderate nutritional value, its chief contribution to the diet being that it is a good source of fiber. However, it is also a good source of Vitamins C, E, and B6, in addition to being a low-calorie protein that helps supply potassium and other minerals. Tender young bamboo shoots are often steamed and added to other vegetables or salads, and incorporated into many Oriental dishes.
Also, raw bamboo is the favored food of the Panda bear!