Bamboo is a group of woody perennial evergreen plants in the true grass family Poaceae. Some of its members are giants, forming the largest members of the grass family. New shoots of some of the larger species can grow over a meter a day. Bamboo is of high cultural significance in East Asia where they are used extensively in gardens, as a building material, and also as a food source. In Chinese, bamboo is known as Zhu, in Japanese as Take, and Tre in Vietnamese.
There are over 1,000 species of bamboo and they are found in diverse climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions. Bamboo can essentially grow in nearly any climate and can be found in various forms on every continent except Antarctica.
Many species of bamboo are popular in cultivation as garden plants. There are two general patterns for the growth of bamboo: clumping (sympodial) and running (monopodial). Clumping bamboo species tend to spread slowly as the growth pattern of the rhizomes is to simply expand the root mass gradually, similar to other ornamental grasses. Running bamboo on the other hand needs to be taken care of in cultivation because of their potential to aggressively take over a garden.
The shoots of bamboo are edible and are used in numerous Asian dishes. They are available in supermarkets in various sliced forms, both fresh and canned. The sap of young bamboo stalks tapped during the rainy season may be fermented to make ulanzi (a sweet wine)or simply made into a soft drink. The empty hollow stalks of larger bamboo are often used to cook food in many Asian cultures. Soups are boiled and rice is cooked in the hollows of fresh stalks directly over a flame.
When treated, bamboo forms a very hard wood which is both light and extremely durable. In tropical climates, it is used in elements of house construction, as well as for fences, bridges, toilets, walking sticks, canoes, tableware, furniture, chopsticks, food steamers, toys, construction scaffolding, musical instruments and martial arts weaponry.
The fibre of bamboo has been used to make paper in China for millennia. A high quality hand-made paper is still produced in small quantities. The fibre is also used to make yarn and fabrics. Bamboo fabric is notable for its soft feel and natural antibacterial properties. Bed sheets and towels made from bamboo have become luxury items.