Bamboo and Rattan FAQs

Bamboos are large grasses. Bamboos are not trees, and their stems do not get thicker with age.

Where do bamboos grow?

Bamboos grow in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America, extending as far north as the southern United States and central China, and as far south as Patagonia. They also grow in northern Australia. They grow from sea level to up to 4000 m asl, and are naturally found as secondary vegetation in forests. In some cases, bamboos are the dominant vegetation type, such as in northeast India where they cover many thousands of square kilometers, and on the mountainsides of eastern Africa.

How many types of bamboos are there?

There are approximately 1250 species of bamboos, in 69 genera. They range in size from Sasa pygmaea at 50 cm tall to Dendrocalamus giganteus at 40m tall. About 100 species are used commercially, and INBAR has identified 19 priority species for those wishing to start bamboo businesses. Many attractive cultivars have been selected and are grown as ornamentals.

How do bamboos grow?

Bamboos have well-developed underground stems called “rhizomes”, which form the structural network of the plant. The stems that we see are called “culms”, and emerge from buds on the rhizomes, pushing up through the soil.The culms of many tropical bamboos grow from the apical bud of the rhizome. As the rhizome extends only a short distance before turning upwards, the tropical bamboos usually form clumps. The culms of many sub-tropical and temperate bamboos grow from lateral buds on the rhizome and the apical bud of the rhizome does not turn upwards, but grows horizontally through the soil. This means that these bamboos form groves of more widely spaced culms. Bamboo plants live for many decades, often only dying when they flower. Individual culms live for about ten years.

How do I predict bamboo flowering?

It is possible to predict bamboo flowering for a handful of bamboos whose flowering habits are well known. The most famous of these is Melocanna baccifera in northeast India, which flowers once every 48 years, and dies thereafter. The last flowering in the northeast was centered around 2007, and the next is expected around 2055. But the factors that turn a bamboo plant from the vegetative to the flowering state are not known. Some of the common Asian species have populations made up of individuals that flower and set seed synchronously at regular and long supra-annual intervals. After growing by rhizome and branch production for a species-specific period of 3-120 years, nearly all the members of one species in one area produce wind-pollinated flowers, set large quantities of seed and die. This seed germinates immediately or when the rains come. Bamboos can be classified into three types, based on flowering habit: (i) those that flower annually or nearly so, e.g., Arundinaria spp. in India and Schizostachium brachycladum in Thailand; (ii) those that flower gregariously and periodically; (iii) those that flower irregularly. The flowering habit of Bambusa spp. and Dendrocalamus spp. in the tropical regions of Asia and of Phyllostachys and other genera in Japan belongs to types (ii) and (iii) P. edulis flowers sporadically, and the flowering occurs in small areas or in a few clumps. Periodical and gregarious flowering occurs in cycles; the cycles are more or less constant for a species in a given locality but differ between remote locations.

How do I propagate bamboos?

Clump-forming bamboos can be propagated using whole culms, offsets or pieces of culms, by seeds and by micropropagation. Grove-forming bamboos are best propagated by offsets or from seed. See INBAR’s tropical bamboo propagation manual and micropropagation guide for more details.

How do I grow bamboos?

Bamboos are easy to grow. As bamboos are perennial plants, prepare the soil well before planting, incorporating bulky organic matter and organic fertiliser.  Clean the area of perennial weeds and stones. If the area is in bright sunlight, ensure you have access to irrigation/watering facilities nearby, particularly in the early stages of establishment. After the first year, periodic (once or twice per year) application of bulky organic matter and organic fertiliser will keep them growing well.The deeper and more open the soil layer the better, as the rhizome system will be stronger and deeper. If you are growing an ornamental, cut out dead or unsightly bamboo culms once a year. Management for productive purposes is more complex, please see relevant INBAR publications.

What pests and diseases do bamboos suffer from?

Many bamboo species are affected by various diseases and pests, but onkly a few are considered serious. In nurseries in Asia, the major diseases are web blight caused Rhizoctonia solani, leaf rust (Dasturella divina) and foliage infection (Exserohilum spp. and Bipolaris spp.). Almost 700 insect species in China, 180 in India and 80 in Japan have been reported to be associated with attacks on bamboos. See INBAR’s publications on “Diseases of Bamboos in Asia” and “Insect Pests of Bamboos in Asia”.

Which animals live on bamboo?

Many animals live on bamboo including: Giant Panda, Red Panda, Lesser Bamboo Lemur, Greater Bamboo Lemur, Mountain Gorilla, South China Bamboo Bat, Bamboo Rat.

Can bamboos help us mitigate climate change?

Yes, bamboos are amongst the fastest growing plants in the world. This suggests that bamboo has high potential in carbon sequestration. Studies show that selectively harvested bamboo can sequester more carbon than comparable fast growing trees. Bamboo also showed potential to grow on degraded land; as such bamboo offers an option to be included in afforestation or reforestation schemes.
Substitution of energy intensive products with bamboo can reduce greenhouse gas emissions indirectly. Bamboo is selectively harvested and provides woody biomass each year, and can take pressure off other forest resources and contribute to avoided deforestation.

Can bamboos help us adapt to climate change?

Yes, bamboo resources can be for a wide range of products and services. This means that bamboo offers a wide range of options for adapting to local climates. Elevated bamboo houses are amongst the most popular bamboo based climate change adaptation measures.
Through reducing erosion and creating windbreaks as well as shelterbelts, bamboo stands can protect against extreme weather events and disasters. Growing bamboo can reduce the sensitivity of ecosystems and help to rehabilitate degraded lands – therefore bamboo can support the development of more resilient ecosystems. Moreover, bamboo can provide a low-energy resource for construction and infrastructure as well as renewable energy.

Can bamboos support livelihoods while facing changing climate?

Yes, only productive and sustainable ecosystems can support livelihoods of rural communities. “Locked up” forests prevent local communities – whose livelihoods depend on forest resources – from generating income. Bamboo’s unique characteristics offer potential to combat climate change while regularly providing a useful forest resource; bamboo’s renewability, fast (re-)growth and versatility allow bamboo to be selectively harvested without destroying the standing ecosystems. That means that bamboo can provide regular income opportunities while it stores and sequesters carbon. Moreover, local coping strategies which include bamboo can result in improved bamboo production chains that bring greater financial and environmental benefits.

Why are bamboos so useful?

A bamboo culm is a lightweight pole, and can be used to make agricultural implements and buildings.A bamboo culm contains wood that can be used to produce a huge range of items. Bamboos produce new culms each year, so unlike trees which take decades to mature, processors can rely on an annual supply of culms to supply their businesses.

Why are bamboos so good for alleviating poverty?

Bamboos grow in areas where people are poor – especially sub-saharan Africa, south and southeast Asia, and many parts of Latin America. People often use them already in their lives, and so producing products for sale is a small step forward in new skills needed, but a giant leap in incomes generated. Bamboos can be made into a huge range of products each with their own markets, and producers can develop a wide range of potential income generating opportunities from bamboo. The markets may be for high value items made on a small scale such as handicrafts, for low value products made on a large scale, such as incense sticks, charcoal and paper, or for high value products made on a large scale, such as laminated boards.
The production chain of a bamboo products often involves many discrete stages, each of which involves a change of value of the bamboo, and so represents an income generating opportunity. Many people in a community can be involved in difference stages of the production process, and all earn money from it.

What are rattans?

Rattans are climbing palms.

Where do rattans grow?

Rattans grow in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and Africa, extending as far north as Nepal and Bhutan, and as far south as Papua New Guinea. They only grow in tropical forests.

How many types of rattans are there?

There are approximately 650 species of rattans, in 13 genera. A handful of species are widely used, such as Calamus manan, and many others are used locally. INBAR has identified 7 priority species for those wishing to start rattan businesses.

What is bamboo fabric?

Bamboo fabric can be produced from bamboo fibers: if the natural fibers are used and made into yarn, it can be said that it is made from bamboo and in some countries can be labeled as such.  However, most ‘bamboo fabric’ is actually viscose or rayon, a regenerated cellulose fiber which is chemically manufactured: this is mostly the same process when rayon is made from wood or other biomass and waste by – products.  For more information, please see the following article.

pdf Labeling and marketing bamboo textiles (201.33 kB)