All About Bamboo Stems

Bamboo is widely grown in many different areas of the world. In addition to their usefulness in gardens, bamboo plants are used for construction. The shoots are edible, the fiber from the stems can be turned into fabric and paper, and bamboo is also use in making weapons.


Anatomy of a Stem

Bamboo stems are oval in shape. The stems are a series of straight sections joined by nodes that give the stems their characteristic ringed appearance. The internodes of a bamboo are hollow in many species. Internodes are usually much closer together near the base of the stem. The wall of the stem may be very thin or quite thick, depending on the variety and size of the bamboo.

Bamboo Stem Growth

Also known as a culm, when the stem first pushes through the ground it is already at its maximum diameter and contains all the cells it will have at maturity. Unlike most plants, which grow in height and diameter by creating new cells, bamboo stems grow by filling individual cells with water. Bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the world.

Lucky Bamboo Stems

Although not a true bamboo, lucky bamboo stems have significance. When yellow, they indicate the plant is over-fertilized or damaged by chemicals. In feng shui, the number of stems is important. Two stems represents love, on up through all numbers to 10. Twenty-one stalks is an indicators of a powerful blessing. However, four stalks is connected with death.

Bamboo as Weapons

Bamboo has a long history in weaponry and the martial arts. Among these are:

  • Bamboo staffs for the Tamil martial art called silambom.
  • Staves for the Indian martial art of gatka.
  • Swords called shinai – used in Japanese kendo.
  • Bows and arrows.
  • The Chinese are believed to have developed the first gunpowder weapons, using bamboo.

Bamboo Stems in the Kitchen

Bamboo shoots, or new stems, are edible if properly prepared. Available sliced in canned and fresh forms, the shoots may be used to flavor broth and Asian dishes, stir-fried, pickled or fermented. In India, bamboo shoots are sliced thin and boiled in coconut milk. In Thailand, bamboo sections are hollowed out and filled with rice and coconut cream before cooking. Bamboo is also used as charcoal for cooking fuel.

Bamboo as a Wood

Bamboo is used widely for construction in Asia. It makes strong but light scaffolding that can reach to great heights. Bamboo can even be split and twisted into cables used to make suspension bridges. The stems are shaped while growing into arches or squares and used in constructing buildings. Laminated bamboo is used for flooring, cutting boards, cabinetry and furniture.