Rural System's

The Bamboo Group

This unit is based on the suggestions and contributions of Mr. Allen H. Loyd, St. Petersburg, Florida, former owner of Space Machine and Engineering Corp, a manufacturer of waveguide components, which are used in microwave devices, such as radars and satellite communication equipment. He is a bamboo gardener.

This group raises and markets bamboo and seeks to develop specialty plants and to provide them at reasonable prices for special, high-priority, and unusual uses such as for tapping sticks used in stick dancing sponsored by Rural System at races and triathlons.

"Bamboo" is a common name for some 200 species of plants in about 20 genera. Uses are abundant: masts, poles, joists, fishing rods, water pipes, pails, cooking utensils, life preservers, arrow quivers, walking canes, flutes, pipes, nets, hats, wicker work, umbrellas, and thatch. Young shoots are used as food (Boiled or pickled). Some species are spiny and have been used in fencing. One species yields "honey" an air dried saccharine exudate from the nodes (tabaris or tabasheer).

The plants generally grow best in warm, moist, deep soils. Species requirements differences are notable.Wind protection is typically desired in early plantations.

In addition to being a useful and renewable resource, bamboo is drought and pollution tolerant; provides erosion control on slopes and clearings; provides wildlife habitat; and through its great ability to recycle carbon dioxide, helps to control global warming - plus, of course, its aesthetic qualities for landscaping and for objects made from it.

A new bamboo planting will take several years ( or perhaps longer) for the rhizome to reach its full vigor. In the meantime, it puts out small but increasingly larger canes, which in turn help to feed the rhizome; all the while, the rhizome is storing up the vast amount of energy required to produce new canes. Bamboo never needs replanting, it grows back rapidly after being cut They can, it is reported, gain under ideal conditions for some species, more than a foot of height in 24 hours. Bamboo is strong, pliable, with greater tensile strength than steel, and produces more oxygen than any other plant for its size to weight ratio. Each culm (cane) emerges from the ground at its full final diameter : bamboo culms do not grow outward like tree trunks, they grow only upward. And each cane achieves its full size (diameter as well as height) in a single growing season;

Bamboos blossom only at great intervals, from 10 to over 100 years, depending upon the species. Within a region, all members of that species tend to blossom at the same time. An amazing plant!

"The dangers of rampantly spreading bamboo have been somewhat exaggerated and sensationalized and tend (as with other plants not managed) are the result of being inattentive to the running properties of these plants. Nurseries which grow bamboo seem able to control its growth.

The cost of potted bamboo can vary with respect to the species ( some rarer or more decorative, or perhaps more difficult to propagate), and the size - both the species ultimate size and the size of the particular specimen. Species which grow to only several feet in height naturally have small rhizomes from which a branch can easily be separated in order to start a new plant; on the other hand , a species which can grow to 70 ft height has massive rhizomes, presenting a much bigger challenge to separation.

Since bamboos flower so infrequently, virtually all propagation is by means of rhizome separation or by rooting of a section of a culm. Since bamboo plants are "clones"(all bamboo of a species tend to flower at the same time.

The separation and subsequent nurturing to produce a cash crop of potted or bare-root plants suitable for transplanting may be labor intensive, a source of employment.(Notes of Mr. Loyd)

The first efforts of our Group are for plants useful in surface mine reclamation.

There are two main types of bamboo growth habits -

For our Appalachian project work, virtually all of the temperate-climate bamboos are runners. (The clumpers are tropical.)

Some of the runners (and that list we shall investigate and develop ) will not spread very rampantly, especially in colder higher-elevation climates.

Where spreading occurs, plants can be controlled by mowing or cutting off the new sprouts soon after they appear. For positive control, a metal, concrete, or very tough plastic barrier has to be placed to a depth 2-3 ft below grade level. We propose selling and placing such structures where we promote and sell plants for specialty gardens and landscaping.

There are about 1100 species of bamboo, comprising 115 genera. The most widespread and varied genus is Phyllostachys,which has over 60 species. A few of the species are cold-tolerant. P. bambusoides, or giant timber bamboo, is the most utilized bamboo in Japan, where it is prized for its straight thick-walled culms (canes); it can grow to 5 inches in diameter and 72 feet in height; minimum temperature is 5 degrees F. Another possible candidate is P.edulis, or Moso, which can grow to 75 feet, 7in. diameter and withstand 0 degrees F. This is the most-used species in China, where it is used for timber, food, paper, plywood, and flooring. Both of these species are fairly readily available in the US. In February of 2005, exports were being made to the US from China of woven human coffins made of bamboo. This may suggest possible other uses of woven basket and box products.

The Bamboo Group promotes and works with local citizen bamboo growers to develop markets for their mature plants, including drying, storing, and marketing. The large species are mentioned here for they are suitable for structural uses.

We'll develop ornamental and other applications as we seek out and find roles for the plant and its associates. There are certainly purely landscaping candidates.

A good general book describing the morphology , the uses, and the characteristics of bamboo genera and some important species, is "Bamboos", by Recht and Wetterwald, ISBN 0-88192-268-4. The American Bamboo Society publishes much information, including an annual "Bamboo Species Source List," which gives the characteristics of over 400 species, subspecies, cultivars, plus lists of sources of plants and bamboo-related products, by species.

Strategies and pathways for our work include :

  1. Promoting involvement with an architect for developing uses for furniture, screens, gardtrellisise, and art objects
  2. Developing regional maps for areas suitable for each of 10 candidate species or hybrids
  3. Developing layering techniques for surface mine planting and lacontouringing
  4. Developing erosion control structures
  5. Developing songbird "cover-pens", or coverts, enclosures to protect native plants and animals and provide low to the ground nesting areas and feeding areas for sparrows, juncos,, etc. in open fields to provide slight protection from mowing, feral cats, and for reducing ground winds.
  6. Developing rolls of roughly woven bamboo for erosion control, some on strip mine areas and other disturbed areas, some to reduce impacts of road runoff on eroding soil banks
  7. Developing Topics
  8. Listing birds likely to forage and nest in such plants, especially of different heights and ages See Avi sport areas for planting potentials.
  9. With a natural preservative (e.g., black locust, fern extraction, etc.) produce dry stakes for gardeners for writing with a special pen and ink the plant names. The stake is put in the soil beside each major plant to help remember and display plants for visitors. The stakes are marketed by their uses at growing and display areas.
  10. Bamboo spears are created and marketed along with the Atlatl and the variation among them become part of the game variances in official contests.
  11. Develop and test a Rural System swamp shoe (like snowshoes) for exciting planned nature tours and hikes in wetlands.
  12. Develop woven permeable barriers (small flow-through dams) to assist in re-developing the stair-step form of streams lost since settlement.
  13. Bundle segments for a device to be placed in aquaria
  14. Promote use of large pieces for developing irregular, often-convoluted water shutes within gardens for irrigation as well as visual beauty
  15. Promote many uses along with water-garden enterprise associates. (Nesting areas for fish; balance - tubes that fill and empty and make knocking noise.
  16. Seek waste products that, applied to land, are especially well used by bamboo.
  17. Develop and sell large, deep-voice wind chimes
  18. Developing a tube-shaped songbird feeder for thistle seeds (in competition with the expensive glass and metal ones now available).
  19. Develop an over-sized musical instrument, a xylophone-like device beat like a drum by a group(s) with musical abilities like those of the Christmas bell-ringers.
  20. Develop specialized wildife "clumps" or Rural System faunal columns that favor select species, are maintained in a hexagonal shape, contain faunal space amendments (nesting areas), and follow the landscape concepts related to interspersion and juxtaposition.

By dispersed contractual raising of plants through out various regions of the state, we can add to employment, diversify income, raise interest in the land, provide children and at-home people employment and income possibilities.

Testimonial...sort of
In my back yard in Indiana I have a bamboo jungle. It began when a neighbor bought one shoot at the Farmer's Market and planted it in the corner of her yard abutting mine. My teenage grandsons now cut a maze through what resulted. A fellow who had stolen a car pulled into my driveway and hid in it. It may be responsible for the coons, skunks, possums, rabbits, and chipmunks which I foster parent. It is a mess, but I kinda like it. It stays green all winter. Then, in spring, it loses it leaves, sprouts and gets even bigger. We do mow it, but it is sneaky and pops up far from the original patch. My other neighbor took a power saw to his last year. We know how much good that is going to do.
Onward and upward... Nina Eve Abrams Yost

Consider a bamboo frame structure to support a pipe that brings water from a spring or stream to a point for a high fall into a turbine from which energy may be extracted with Internal Hydro devices.

Your knowledge of bamboo and suggestions for uses, potentials, and limits are eagerly sought.

Please share and we'll try to reciprocate. Contact Allen Loyd or Bob Giles ( rh giles{at}vt dot edu has bamboo products. For a catalog request, please type "bamboo catalogue request" on subject line and send to

Last revision: December 7, 2004