Bamboos are large grasses that can grow exceptionally fast. Some varieties can grow as much as 3 to 4 feet per day. Bamboo is edible by both people and animals. Bamboo is also a very important renewable building material in many parts of the world. Under proper growing conditions, bamboo groves can survive for hundreds of years. Some types of bamboo only flower once every 100 years.
There are over 1,500 different varieties of bamboo. Bamboo grows in many temperate and tropical parts of the world. Although associated with Asia, the Americas have many native varieties. Some varieties of native bamboos grow as far north as Washington State. Washington native bamboo, however, has no commercial value because of its exceptionally weak canes.
Bamboo grows under a protective forest canopy. Bamboo grows very well in indirect or partial sun, with some varieties growing very well in full shade. Although some bamboo can survive direct sun in some climates, others may suffer from leaf burn under hot afternoon sun. In general, bamboo grows best under some protection.
Bamboo can do well in drought conditions; however, it usually requires moist soil that drains well. Because it grows on forest floors, bamboo often has a natural mulch made up of leaves and debris from the canopy and bamboo leaves that drop from the canes. This mulch helps keep the soil moist between rainstorms.
Because of the large number of species, a bamboo exists that will grow in most soil types. Although not a hard and fast rule, in general bamboo needs soils that drain well. For other soil factors, however, select a variety suited to that particular soil. Some bamboos do well in acidic soils. Other bamboos do better in alkaline soils. Consult a nursery for very unusual soil types.
Bamboo grows in a number of different sizes. In nature, different forms can often grow together. For example, in tropical forests where the canopy can reach over 180 feet, bamboos as tall as 120 feet can grow well under the canopy trees. Because those taller bamboos often protect large areas from sun, smaller bamboos often grow in the shade of the tall bamboos. Smaller varieties of bamboo grow in protected areas of many temperate or tropical forests.