Text about Bamboo taken from Wayne's World article "Botanical Record-Breakers (Part 2 of 2) Amazing Trivia About Plants".
15. The World's Fastest Growing PlantsThe record for the fastest growth of an individual goes to a tropical species of bamboo that reportedly reaches 100 feet (30 m) in three months. [Note: This is an unsubstantiated report. It might be only 50 feet (15 m) in three months.] Growth increments of three feet (0.9 m) a day have been recorded--an astonishing 0.0002 miles per hour. The record for total growth in length after a period of time may go to a species of marine algae. The Pacific giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) may grow up to 150 feet (46 m) or more in length, and has been clocked at 18 inches a day. It has also been estimated that if all the filamentous hyphae produced in one day by a single massive soil fungus permeating acres of forest soil were laid end to end, they could extend for nearly a mile.
Bamboos typically form dense, impenetrable clumps or spread by creeping rhizomes. Clumping bamboos are mostly native to tropical contries, such as Indonesia, Burma, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Thailand and southern China. A few "mountain bamboos" from the Himalayas and the Andes are "temperate clumpers" that can survive in areas with freezing winters. Running bamboos are mostly from temperate climates of Japan, northern China, Siberia and one native species in the United States. Bamboos range in size from low, shrubby forms only ten feet (3 m) tall to towering giants over 100 feet (30 m). Aerial stems (called culms) develop from scaly, underground stems called rhizomes that bear roots at the nodes where the leaflike scales are attached.
Along with palms, bamboos are one of the world's most important building materials, particularly in areas where timber trees are in short supply. Large timber bamboos, including Dendrocalamus giganteus and Bambusa oldhamii are used for scaffolding, bridge-building, water pipes, storage vessels and to build houses. In fact, as a building material bamboo plays an important role in almost every country in which it occurs. In Burma and Bangladesh, about fifty percent of the houses are made almost entirely of bamboo. In Java, woven bamboo mats and screens are commonly used in timber house frames. With modern polymer glues and bonding cements, bamboos are made into plywood, matboard and laminated beams.
Some bamboo species bloom simultaneously and then die, a phenomenon that is still under investigation by plant physiologists. These species produce seed once in their life cycle and are termed monocarpic. Like other biological phenomena, there are exceptions to this worldwide mortality. In fact, most species of bamboo are not monocarpic. Some bamboos observed in cultivation are greatly weakened or die back following the blooming cycle, but actually recover in a few years and may even live to bloom again. With an average human life cycle of perhaps eighty years, few mortal botanists have ever followed the life cycle of a particular bamboo plant from germination to flowering! Variations in the exact flowering period for a given species have also been observed in cultivated bamboos. When cultivated bamboo species bloom precisely at the same time, they are very likely clones from an original rhizome that has been propagated vegetatively. Depending on the species, the unusual delayed blooming cycle may occur only once in a century. Even more astonishing is the fact that over huge geographic areas all the bamboo of a single species may flower and fruit at the same time, resulting in enormous grain (seed) production and widespread die-offs. When this massive die-off was observed in a panda preserve in 1983 the panda inhabitants faced starvation, while pandas on different mountains (with different bamboo species) had sufficient food. The Chinese launched a campaign to relocate about ten percent of the pandas in zoos; however, their failure to reproduce well in captivity further exacerbated the decline in panda populations. The birth of Hua Mei at the San Diego Zoo in the 1999 using artificial insemination was indeed a triumph for the panda breeding program.
Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the ecological advantage of producing seed-bearing fruit only once in a life cycle (monocarpic) and with a long time interval between germination and death of up to 120 years. As I stated above, this phenomemon does not apply to the majority of bamboo species. One of the most plausible explanations involves a clever strategy to avoid annual seed predation by rodents, such as rats. Rodents are very fond of bamboo grains and if the seed predators were in tune with bamboo flowering and fruiting, they could easily destroy the bulk of the seed crop each year. With massive fruiting only once or twice in a century, the bamboos avoid tracking by vertebrates whose generation time is much shorter than the flowering cycle. With abundant food, the rodent population could increase substantially during the year following the bamboo flowering cycle; but for the next 30 to 60 years (or more), the rodent population would decrease and stabilize again while the bamboo populations regenerate. This strategy to avoid seed predation, and the extensive cultivation of fertile valleys between mountainous regions, has seriously threatened the panda populations in southern China.