What can you use for building a house, making the furniture in the house, the clothing and linens, and also as part of your supper?  Bamboo. Asians have long used it to make bridges and scaffolding.  Bamboo fabric makes luxuriously soft sheets, towels, and clothing.  Grocery stores carry bamboo shoots for stir-fry.  All that versatility, and it’s eco-friendly, too.

Bamboo looks a little like a tree when it’s growing, but it’s really a grass.  It grows from a rhizome, or underground stem.  What looks like a whole forest may be a single plant!  Culms, or groups of poles, can grow four feet per day.  They are ready for harvest in two or three years. Harvesting a culm of bamboo does not kill the plant.  Soon enough, another culm springs up in its place.

Contrast bamboo with trees.  The trees must grow for 40 or 50 years before they are ready to become lumber.  Improper harvesting, deforestation, leads to loss of soil, erosion, and water pollution.  An acre of bamboo provides unimaginably more lumber than an acre of trees with minimal environmental impact at harvest.

Contrast bamboo with cotton.  Growing cotton requires fertilizer and irrigation.  Farmers must replant cotton every year.  Bamboo requires little or no fertilizer or irrigation.  And an acre of bamboo provides ten times as much fiber as a comparable sized field of cotton.

Bamboo wood can be made simply by cutting poles to the proper length, or splitting them lengthwise.  Anything made from this wood looks like bamboo.  Alternatively, bamboo wood can be made as a laminate by cutting the poles into thin strips and gluing them together. Anything made from this wood looks like hardwood.

Bamboo wood can therefore form the frame, walls, floors, and roof of a building and a fence around it.  The building can have cabinetry and all manner of furniture from bamboo wood, not to mention vases, lamps, cooking utensils, serving dishes, and dinnerware.

There are two ways to make bamboo fabric for clothing and linens, called bamboo linen and bamboo rayon.  Rayon is not exactly a synthetic fabric, because it starts with natural plant fibers.  It is not exactly a natural fabric, either, because of the chemicals required to make thread from the fibers.

The chemicals used to make bamboo rayon so luxuriously soft must also be applied to cotton in order to make it soft.  Bamboo rayon maintains the antimicrobial properties of natural bamboo.  It does not hold static electricity and therefore causes no static shock.  It also has advantages over other fabrics for temperature regulation and moisture control.

Bamboo fabric also makes curtains, rugs, and furniture.  Bamboo is suitable for making products for either indoor or outdoor use.  For a more detailed description of bamboo products, see my article Bamboo: a Versatile and Sustainable Resource.

David M. Guion writes four blogs, including Sustainable Green Homes, which specializes in presenting sustainability and green living to the majority of Americans who are not motivated by the specter of climate change.

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