Bamboo (bambusa arundinacea), a genus of arborescent grasses found in x\sia, and in the West Indies, but more extensively used in China than any other country. It has a hard woody texture where the plant has attained any considerable growth, with hollow jointed stems. These are externally coated with silex, and the plant sometimes secretes the same substance between the joints in lumps, when it is called tabasheer. The Chinese reckon an endless variety of it, one Chinese botanist observing that he could not name all the kinds, but would enumerate 63 of the principal varieties. The bamboo occupies an intermediate place between grasses proper and trees, from its size frequently appearing like a tree, but displaying gramineous affinities in its internal structure. Like all grasses, it is nourished from the pith, and starts from the ground at nearly the same diameter it bears in maturity. It usually grows to a height of 40 or 50 feet, and beyond that size is regarded as extraordinary. In diameter it varies from 1 to 8 inches, and in the distances between the joints from 4 to 6 inches in some varieties, and in others, highly prized, from 4 to 5 feet. The leaves are small and oval, without much diversity of form, but sometimes of a reddish and bluish hue.
The color of the stems is generally yellow, but the Chinese possess secret arts of changing this to chestnut, black, etc.; the black bamboos are cultivated in the gardens of the rich like any other rare plants, and the emperor is said to have an officer Connected with his palace whose sole duty is to attend to the bamboos in the imperial gardens. The culture varies greatly according to the soil, the exposure, and the variety of the plant. It generally requires a sandy soil, where the roots will easily penetrate, and it is extensively grown along the shores of rivers, partly to give support to the banks, although the plant dies if its roots touch the water. It is always propagated by suckers, for it requires 30 years or more to reach the blossoming period, when the plant produces a profuse quantity of seed and dies. Often all the mature bamboos in a large district flower at once and then die, only the rootstocks remaining to send up new shoots. The seeds are edible, and in 1812 a famine was averted in Orissa by the general flowering of this grass. In 1864 the bamboo flowered in the Soopa jungles, and about 50,000 people gathered the seed, camping in the jungle for several weeks.
Planting generally takes place in the spring and autumn, and requires very slight care; four or five years elapse before a plantation is considered ready to cut, and for this the winter season is deemed the best, as the wood is then the hardest. - The bamboo may indeed be styled the national plant of China, and the uses to which it is put by the natives are almost innumerable. The young and tender shoots are boiled and eaten, or preserved by the confectioners, and as sweetmeats are delicious. The roots serve many curious purposes.
Bamboo Leaves, Flowers, and Fruit.
The tubes are in constant use in many departments of human industry; not only are entire houses and boats made of them in some cases, hut various kinds of ornamental screenwork for interior decoration; also the yards of vessels and the tacking polos by which boats are impelled in calm and shallow waters. The straight-est of the tubes have been used for astronomical purposes, and cheap aqueducts are in common use, formed by fitting the ends together. Sheds are made from the hamboo by softening it in water and flattening the sections, and these when split finer are made into rain cloaks. Floats to tie on the backs of little children who live in the boats on rivers, as well as the poles by which strong coolies carry burdens, come alike from the plant. Water wheels, fences, rope, chairs, tables, bookcases, boxes, hats, umbrellas, pipe sticks, fans, fan cases, cups, measures for grain, shields, pike and spear handles, and paper, all are formed from bamboo. The pith is used for lamp wicks, and exquisite carvings inlaid with gold and silver, and far more elegant than ivory work, are produced from the hard stems. From the large quantity of silex in the wood, thin slices make good knives.
In the islands of the Indian ocean, the bamboo, like the breadfruit tree and the cocoanut, enters largely into the industrial arts of all the various races. The Battaks and the Redjangs of Sumatra write on small polished joints of bamboo, about one inch in diameter, beginning at the top and descending spirally to the bottom. In Burmah the bamboo is so extensively used in the construction of houses, that large cities, such as Rangoon and Prome, are composed almost entirely of bamboos. These houses are lashed together, not nailed, and easily struck and removed like tents. - The family bambusaceae comprises 20 genera and 170 species already described. Of these only one is found in America north of Mexico, none in Europe, and but one is native to Africa; and only one is common to both hemispheres, differing in this respect from all other grasses.