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Bamboo, a Beautiful and Versatile Material

Photo: bamboo
Bamboo is becoming an increasingly popular "green" material. Photo: Sean McGrath


By Rachel Kaplan

One material seems to stand at the heart of the recent revolution in green products – bamboo. Bamboo is booming, and is estimated to be worth upwards of $25 billion in 2012. There are a number of positive attributes of this grassy material (it is not wood as many believe) that have helped it gain momentum in the marketplace.

Not surprisingly, one root cause of the heightened popularity of bamboo can be attributed to an increase in knowledge and awareness of the material. The rise of brand awareness campaigns tooting the horn of bamboo’s eco benefits has opened the eyes of not only the early green-lifestyle adopters, but also the general population.

Bamboo has the ability to grow everywhere except Antarctica and survive in many different climate conditions, and it reduces carbon dioxide and increases the production of oxygen as much as 30% more than other plants such as hardwood forests. Bamboo is among the fastest growing and most adaptable materials on the planet. It can grow up to two inches per hour and matures in about five years, providing a constant and never-ending supply to the marketplace without endangerment to countless species (as long as native forests aren’t mowed down to make way for bamboo plantations, which isn’t common because bamboo can be grown on marginal and already worked-over lands). Compare that to hardwoods such as oak, which can grow about 12 inches per year and takes up to 120 years to mature.

Another possible cause for the dominating positive buzz for bamboo products is the fact that it is so versatile and can be used and made into almost anything, from flooring and paper to clothing and building materials. It’s soft and durable when woven, is extremely durable when made into clothes and boasts anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Since it also has a tensile strength stronger than steel, bamboo is popular in building materials.  Essentially, you can build your house, your office, your décor and your wardrobe entirely from bamboo. 

The retail industry is slowly shifting to a more eco-friendly commerce model and production cycle.  At the heart of this positive shift is the start of a boom in bamboo product manufacturing and public demand that will hopefully move the industry in the direction towards widespread availability and competitive models for this beautiful and impeccably green plant. If the myriad of quality wholesalers and retailers selling bamboo products today is any sign, then bamboo is definitely on its way to becoming top of the retail food-chain.

One challenge will be to make sure bamboo retains its green luster throughout its lifecycle. As the market expands, watchdogs will have to keep an eye out to make sure speculators aren’t converting fragile endangered forests into bamboo farms. So far, that threat pales in comparison to other rivals like palm oil and oil and gas development. It’s also true that bamboo can become an invasive species, so cultivation should be monitored to reduce impact on native vegetation in new areas.


  1. […] Bamboo, a Beautiful and Versatile Material (newswatch.nationalgeographic.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. | Tagged Bamboo, bamboo trellis, budget friendly, eco-friendly, Garden, Home Depot, Lowes, Plant, trellis, Vegetable […]

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    June 18, 2012, 8:53 pm

    […] National Geographic: […]

  3. […] National Geographic: […]

  4. Brian Clark Howard
    June 14, 2012, 12:05 pm

    You are right, sorry for the typo! That should have been “inches” not “feet” per hour. I updated the post to say it can grow up to two inches an hour, per http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/go-for-the-green/green-brain-bamboo-grow.html

  5. Jonathan Rouse
    United States
    June 14, 2012, 7:21 am

    In the article you state that bamboo “can grow upwards of 1.6 feet per hour.” That’s not true.

  6. Mike
    South Arica
    June 14, 2012, 4:29 am

    can bamboo really grow at “1.6 feet per hour”?

  7. EarthOhio
    June 13, 2012, 11:30 pm

    The amazing bamboo

  8. phil
    June 13, 2012, 11:26 pm

    “It can grow upwards of 1.6 feet per hour…” I call bullshit. Someone should check their sources.