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The largest of the grasses, there are over 1600 species of bamboo, 64 percent of which are native to Southeast Asia. Thirty-three percent grows in Latin America, and the rest in Africa and Oceania. In North America there are only three native species of bamboo as opposed to the 440 species native to Latin America

Bamboo varies in height from dwarf, one foot (30 cm) plants to giant timber bamboos that can grow to over 100 feet (40 m). It grows in a lot of different climates, from jungles to high on mountainsides. Bamboos are further classified by the types of roots they have. Some, called runners, spread exuberantly, and others are classified as clumpers, which slowly expands from the original planting. There are also varieties of root systems that are a mixture of these types. Generally, the tropical bamboos tend to be clumpers and the temperate bamboos tend to be runners.

Bamboo is both decorative and useful. In many parts of the world it is food, fodder, the primary construction material and is used for making great variety of useful objects from kitchen tools, to paper to dinnerware. They are growing so fast that they are considered to be rapidly renewable resources, some species under ideal condition could grow to full height in three to four years for harvesting.

There are three major types of hardy bamboos: Arundinaria, Phyllostachys, and Sasa. Arundinaria species are very active in growth and of medium height. The rhizome of this bamboo produces a large number of culms near the base of the plant. Grown without restriction, an Arundinaria plant will form a dense hedge.

Phyllostachys forms a less dense screen and is particularly suitable for a grove or a high, open screen. The culms of the Phyllostachys tend to grow upright and straight. The foliage is delicate, light green and is symmetrically placed on the branches. The familiar form that we see in oriental gardens is a grove of isolated culms. Phyllostachys species are especially suitable for this treatments.

Sasa species run small, but they can tolerate shade making them well suited for dense screens. Sasa species make striking accent plants, with long, broad leaves overshadowing short stems. Leaves are dark green, sometimes variegated, and have a rough texture and shape. Bamboos grow best in rich soil that is not too dry. They tolerate light shade, though in northern gardens more sun and a warm, sheltered spot are best.

The beauty of bamboo lies in the strong, tall and dignified sections of the stalk, as well as in its straight, smooth, and elegant appearance. Its leaves toss in the wind, yet retain their sternness and sharp edges. Although hollow inside, it has strong joints. It can tolerate severe weather and stay green throughout the year. Moreover, its "upright" shape, "unoccupied" interior, and "restraining" joints have made it symbolic of noble character and sterling integrity.


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