Bamboo consists of a group of woody perennial evergreen plants in the grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae. Plants such as heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) and lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderana) are not members of the bamboo family although they resemble bamboo. Bamboo adds beauty to gardens and landscapes while commercially, the plant gets made into a wide variety of household products
More than 1,200 species of bamboo grow around the world, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The plants fall into a variety of groups including tropical, mountain, American, running and dwarf running species. Bamboo remains the world's tallest grass, with one species growing up to 130 feet high, according to North Carolina State University. Another species of bamboo grass grows up to 4 feet in a 24 hour period.
Different species of bamboo grow in different temperature zones, although most bamboo grows in temperate, subtropical or tropical climates. Bamboo thrives in such Asia, Africa and in South America. In North America, only three species of bamboo grow naturally. These three species used to cover millions of acres of land until the forests were removed to create land for farming. Other species of bamboo growing in North American gardens and yards consist of imported bamboo plants.
Bamboo falls into one of two growing habits--clumping and running--based on the types of roots or rhizomes the plant uses to spread. Clumping bamboo relies on rhizomes to produce new shoots. This type of bamboo primarily grows in the tropical zones. Bamboo relying on runners to spread primarily grows in the temperate zones where it forms groves of plants. Tropical bamboo grows best in full sun while mountain and American bamboo species thrive in full to partial sun. Bamboo grows best in loose, loamy, well-drained and moderately acidic soil. The plants seldom flower, but once they do, they take up most of the plant's nourishment, resulting in the plant's death.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, bamboo forests are rapidly diminishing. A variety of wildlife that relies on bamboo as an important food source and habitat resource faces a struggle for survival with the deforestation of the plant. Lemurs, giant pandas and mountain gorillas all depend on bamboo for food and shelter. Other animals such as Himalayan black bears and the South American spectacled bear as well as variety of bird species also rely on bamboo. The world's second smallest bat may also suffer from disappearing bamboo forests since it roosts inside bamboo stems.
Bamboo is used in a variety of products including handicrafts, clothing, food such as edible shoots and construction materials. Paper, musical instruments, matting, furniture and flooring products can come from bamboo. Traded bamboo products have an estimated value of more than $2 billion annually, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Of course, bamboo also has aesthetic value in a home garden.