Bamboos - giants among grasses
Reaching up to 35 m tall, bamboos are the largest members of the grass family. At the other extreme, some bamboos grow to no more than 0.5 m in height. However, they characteristically all produce woody perennial stems.
At ground level
Bamboos have complex underground branching stems called rhizomes. Young shoots, emerging from buds on the rhizome, look rather like giant asparagus spears. They have already reached their maximum width – however tall they grow, they never increase in diameter.
Young shoots develop into the woody stems (culms) that are often called canes. These hollow stems are divided into segments (internodes) by partitions at the nodes. Stems can grow up to 40 cm per day, reaching their final height within 3-4 months. Their colours range from black through green to gold, with varying amounts of mottling or striping according to species. Some scramble over neighbouring plants; others, like the walking stick bamboo, Chimonobambusa (Qiongzhuea) tumidissinoda, have swollen nodes; and others have curved internodes (Phyllostachys aureosulcata).
Bamboo leaves consist of two parts – a sheath that encircles the stem and a flat elongated blade. The short ‘stalk’ between the blade and the sheath is characteristic of bamboos. It allows the blades to move, gently rustling at the slightest breeze. Branches appear at the nodes on the culms. Sometimes only those high up the stem develop. A few species bear branches that may form thorns; these become entangled to create an impenetrable thicket. Bamboos produce tiny flowers enclosed in protective bracts and grouped together in an inflorescence. Some famously flower en masse; all the individuals of a species flower at the same time, although the flowering period may extend over several years. Others flower seasonally or continuously.
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