Bamboos

The bamboos are perennial, often treelike, grasses belonging to the Bambu-soideae, a subfamily that is thought to be an early offshoot in the grass family lineage. Bamboo taxonomy is poorly understood. One estimate holds that there are roughly 45 genera and 480 species.

Like other grasses, bamboos have jointed culms, which are hollow except at the nodes, where there are partitions. The culms, which originate from rhizomes, are often called canes. The canes are light and elastic. Their hardness is due not to secondary xylem, or wood, as in most trees and shrubs, but rather to scattered fibers in the outer walls of the cane internodes.

Canes of some bamboo species grow at rates as high as a meter a day. The upper nodes of fully elongated culms give rise to small, horizontal branches. Leaves are borne on these branches or on branches of these branches. The blades are narrow and often short. Although some bamboos flower every year, many bloom only at the end of their lifetimes, which may range from 10 to 120 years.

Bamboos are distributed mainly in tropical and subtropical regions, with large concentrations in Asia and South America. A few species reach mild temperate areas. In the United States, there is a single native species, Arundinaria gigantea, called cane. It forms canebrakes in southern bottomlands. Bamboos are grown as ornamentals in many parts of the world. Dense bamboo thickets are sometimes planted as living fences or barricades. In Asia, bamboos are very significant economically, providing materials for building, matting, and many other purposes. The young shoots are popular as food in eastern Asia.

Jane F. Hill

See also: Asian flora; Corn; Erosion and erosion control; European flora; Fruit: structure and types; Grains; Grasslands; North American flora; Pollination; Rice; Savannas and deciduous tropical forests; Wheat.

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