Bamboo – The Wonder Plant

In the minds of many people I know, bamboo rates pretty low on the list of barely-tolerated-ornamental-landscaping-plants.  Some even rate bamboo on the same level as noxious, pesky weeds.  “It’ll take over everything!” is their usual cry of disdain.  This is a sad, sad thing.  I don’t think bamboo has been given the proper respect it deserves as one of the premiere ‘wonder plants’ of the world.  Bamboo is beautiful.  It’s peaceful.  It inspires the best Kung Fu.



Bamboo is a perennial evergreen member of the grass family.  That means it comes back every year.  You can cut it down and it grows back – the number one reason why bamboo is such a great sustainable resource.  It makes for excellent fodder for feeding livestock.  And properly prepared bamboo shoots make great food for humans too.  This super food is low in calories, high in fiber, an excellent source of potassium and a good source of phytochemicals.  Bamboo is useful for making biofuel, particularly methane gas within a bio-digester (a fancy term for a container that holds rotting green waste and captures methane gas).  As a typical fuel or heat source, bamboo charcoal will maintain a constant heat longer than hardwood charcoal.  Lastly, bamboo is a great building material, not only for fences, irrigation and scaffolding, but in many more building and design applications.  I want to show you  one individual and a couple of companies who are pioneering the use of bamboo in high-tech applications.

Before we go on, let me just reiterate two of the most important qualities about bamboo as an alternative building material. First, its strength.  And second, its sustainability.  In South America bamboo is referred to as ‘vegetable steel.’  The tensile strength of plated bamboo cables is as strong as or stronger than a steel cable of the same size. (Midatlantic Bamboo).  According to Colombian architect, Simon Velez, bamboo is lighter and stronger than steel and five times lighter than concrete.  And as I mentioned before, because it’s a grass, it can be harvested and it just keeps growing.  In fact, it’s the fastest growing plant in the world.  How fast you ask?  Some species in ideal conditions can grow up to one meter per day.  According to the American Bamboo Society… “In the less than perfect conditions in my garden, I’ve seen new shoots of Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’ grow about a foot a day. What’s most remarkable is that at an eight-inch diameter, 60 to 80 foot tall bamboos have reached that height in one growing season, which might have been as short as two months.”

Here’s the man who has caused all the fuss about bamboo over the last decade.  These aren’t quaint little garden fences that you might see on Pinterest or little temporary shacks like the Zambian police build when they set up their speed traps on the side of the tar road.  Columbian architect, Simon Velez, constructed a Guadua pavilion of nearly 22,000 sq ft for the ZERI Foundation at the Expo Hanover of 2000 (note the little guy in the foreground of the photo below).  For the first time in history a bamboo structure received a building permit in Germany, and so began the fascination for Guadua (a particular type of bamboo) among western engineers, builders and architects. (



Simon Velez engineered a special saddle connection so that bamboo poles could be fitted together with precision to create immense structures that weren’t possible before.



Here are two of my favorite companies who are working with Velez and other architects to engineer high-tech connections for architectural applications:

1. Guadua Bamboo

2. Be Bamboo

Here are some examples of their outstanding work with Guadua Bamboo:


Be Bamboo has helped pioneer the application of bamboo to geodesic domes using steel connections and modular component system:



Zambikes is using bamboo in yet another application – bike frames. 

Zambikes is by far one of favorite companies, not just because their home base is in Zambia but because of their social entrepreneurial model and their dedication to sustainable transportation.  Here is their website if you’d like to check them out – And here are some pics of their work:

zambikes-5zambikes-4zuri action shooting, Downtown, Fixie, Urban

Garda Bike Festival, zuri Actionzambikes-6zambikes-8

So hopefully by now you can see why I’m such a huge fan of bamboo.  Maybe you learned something about bamboo that you never knew before.  And I just can’t say enough about these companies.  They’re doing remarkable things with grass!  Bamboo is a true gift to be maximized with wisdom and ingenuity and I, for one, want to do all that I can to promote these kind of sustainable materials and their appropriate applications.  Have any of you seen cool stuff being done with bamboo?  Tell us about it!

#bamboo #sustainablebuilding #appropriatetechnology #socialentrepreneurship





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