The Harvesting of Bamboo

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing renewable resources on the planet.  It is used for many conventional purposes such as bamboo sheets, bamboo blankets, organic sheets, and bamboo bedding.  In addition, it can be used and produced in a wide variety of ways, including, but not limited to:

  • Construction
  • Paper
  • Food
  • Medicine
  • Infrastructure
  • Fabrics and textiles
  • Makeup
  • Diesel fuels
  • Electric filaments
  • Charcoal
  • Musical instruments
  • Decorations
  • Landscaping
  • Toys
  • Fishing poles

What types of bamboo are generally harvested?

Some types of bamboo are known as timber bamboos, and these are generally the most harvested species of bamboo.  In particular, bamboos from the genus Phyllostachys are the larger types of bamboo, and thus the most harvested.

  • Phyllostachys – This genus of bamboo is marked by a sulcus on each culm.  A sulcus is a furrow or fissure that runs the length of the culm or bamboo shoot, which makes members of the genus Phyllostachys easily identifiable.  There are approximately 75 different species of bamboos in this genus, and about 200 different varieties of these species (a variety is a category below that of species in botany – so for instance, a species of bamboo may come in three different varieties that differ only slightly).  The name Phyllostachys means “leaf spike”, because of the tendency of the leaves of this genus to grow in clusters.
Here you can see the sulcus found on the Phyllostachys quite easily.  It is the green fissure located in the center of the culm.

Here you can see the sulcus found on the Phyllostachys quite easily. It is the green fissure located in the center of the culm.

When is bamboo harvested?

Most types of bamboo are generally harvested about five to seven years after they sprout, although some species can be harvested in as few as two or three years.  It is important to harvest bamboo when the culms are as strong as they can get, and when their sap contains the least amount of sugar, as bamboo sap can attract a variety of pests when the sap is at its sweetest.  It is also important to clear out any culms that are decaying, in order to maximize light and oxygen available for those culms that are still growing.  Clumps of bamboo that are periodically cleared of old culms produce three to four times as much harvestable bamboo as those culms that are never pruned.

Bamboo should also be harvested when the sun is low in the sky.  During peak daylight hours, bamboo photosynthesizes the most.  When photosynthesis occurs, sap is being produced – so bamboo produces the most sap when the sun is highest in the sky.  Photosynthesis wanes as the sun is lower in the sky.  The most dedicated bamboo farmers believe that the best time to harvest bamboo is during a waning moon, when even the reflected sunlight from the moon is at its lowest level.

A waning moon.

A waning moon.

I thought bamboo grew faster than that?

It is true that bamboo is among the fastest growing plants in the world, as some species have been recorded as growing more than two feet in a single day.  However, this does not mean that these culms reach maturity in that period of time, only that they grow to certain heights during that time.  It is interesting to note that all bamboos grow entirely during the wet season, and not at any other time during their annual cycle.  Consequently, it is extremely important that the clumps remain undisturbed during this time, in order to maximize growth potential and subsequently harvestable culms.  Additionally, bamboo produces the most sap during the wet season, and this amount tapers off by the end of the dry season.  Because of all these factors, the best time to harvest bamboo is at the end of the dry season.  If the bamboo is harvested too close to the wet season, some of the culms can be disturbed since they are starting to grow again, so by harvesting at the end of the dry season, the culms should be finished growing for the year, and it gives a few months before the start of the next wet season.

Sources Used:

“Bamboo.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.

McClure, Floyd Alonzo. The Bamboos. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1993. Print.


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