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All About Bamboo

The needle in Alexander Graham Bell’s first phonograph was made of it and Thomas Edison used it as a filament for his electric bulb. But did you know that the material in question was bamboo?

Bamboo is crucial to the life, culture and economy of every country in Asia and is a way that impoverished communities can become economically self-sufficient. With at least 1500 uses for it already documented, and new applications constantly being discovered, bamboo is probably the most versatile plant in the world. It’s also the fastest growing and, interestingly, after the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945, it was bamboo that provided the first signs of new life.

A fifth of the world’s bamboo grows in China – 300 varieties in an area of 20,000 square kilometres – and you can scarcely travel anywhere in the country without seeing it in some shape or form. It’s used for building bridges and houses, for medicinal purposes, clothing, furniture, nappies, toys, cooking utensils, musical instruments, in Chinese cuisine and even for making beer. However, as far as this website is concerned, the most important use for bamboo is that its shoots and leaves form the staple diet of the giant panda.

If you’re fortunate to have seen a giant panda in the fur, the chances are you’ll have seen it eating because, to get all the nutrients it needs, it will have to spend up 16 hours a day chomping its way through massive amounts of bamboo. Surprisingly, though, the giant panda’s table manners are relatively sophisticated and, using the long unwieldy looking claws on its forepaws and its unique ‘panda thumb’, it’s able to pick up slender lengths of bamboo with extraordinary precision, almost as dextrously as if it had fingers although, once it gets a length of bamboo in its mouth, etiquette tends to be forgotten!