Presenting: Awbury’s 2019 article series on natural fibersClick here to learn more about this year’s theme.

Articles written by La Salle graduate and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

November 2019 –  Bamboo: 

Bamboo grows so quickly and densely that it has become illegal to grow in some regions, including Philadelphia

By now, October has passed and so too has the marvelous show of colored leaves. But while some trees are now brown and devoid of green, some plants have not lost their green hue. The plant we’re alluding to here isn’t a pine or a conifer, but rather a species of plant that doesn’t originally hail from America. It reaches tall heights, grows in dense groupings, spreads quickly, and is in fact illegal to grow in some cities across the United States, including Philadelphia.

Bamboo is the source of the fiber of November, and it is this invasive species, similar to Kudzu in the American South, which is the center of attention for many inventive people trying to come up with a way to reinvent its presence here in the country.

Bamboo is a unique plant. While many categorize the plant as a tree, it really is a member of the grass family. It reigns the tallest of that family and can reach heights of 115 feet tall. It also is a ridiculously fast-growing plant – some species of bamboo can add 3.3 feet of plant per day! This is one of the reasons why it is outlawed in many major cities across the United States. While that speed of growth is rare in the US, for small backyards and valuable public green spaces, bamboo can easily become an out-of-control nuisance and eyesore.

bamboo fiber

However, bamboo can be used for its fiber. The trick is harvesting it at the correct time. Bamboo matures right around three to five years old, but harvesting before that window of time risks weak, immature fibers; harvesting too late might mean the fibers are too deteriorated. That prime middle period produces prime fiber. But what can you use such an odd fiber for?

Bamboo was used by many in Asia for a variety of things including cooking, construction, transport, textiles, and medicine. Today, it is used as a textile and construction material. Bamboo textiles are a wonderfully soft material that can be turned into shirts, socks, towels, and other every day items. When it comes to construction, bamboo can be turned into plywood planks that rival the beauty and durability of their oak counterparts. All in all, bamboo is a multi-use plant.

What makes the use of bamboo so beneficial for today’s world is that it is biodegradable, sustainable, and eco-friendly. Plastic use has no argument against bamboo’s robustness. In addition, growing bamboo requires no chemicals and little water; combine that with the fact that bamboo grows at exceptionally high rates, this plant has the potential to provide for many consumer needs. And one of the most amazing abilities of this plant is its appetite for carbon dioxide. Bamboo absorbs more of the gas than timber and cotton, two of the leading sources of consumer fiber, making it a viable option for our future.

The bottom line is that bamboo is a plant wonderfully adapted to our way of life. While it can be an eyesore to some, others are seeing bamboo as a way to solve some of the most pressing issues in the consumer world.