Bamboo forests can be found most numerously in China, Japan and the East and Southeast Asian regions of the world. But they can also be found in Northern Australia, India, sub-Saharan Africa and the tropical regions of the Americas. Bamboo forests differ greatly from hardwood forests, especially in terms of the growth cycle of the bamboo plants themselves.
Bamboo forests have been used by humans as a source for food and building materials for many centuries, and they are still used, especially in Asia, for those same purposes today. In addition to their material importance, bamboo forests are culturally symbolic in countries like China and Japan. In China, bamboo is a symbol of longevity, and bamboo groves are a common sight in Buddhist temples. In Japan’s Shinto religion, bamboo forests are often the site of shrines and altars, as bamboo forests are believed to ward off evil spirits.
The Growth Cycle of Bamboo Forests
While hardwood forests can take hundreds of years to form, bamboo forests grow very rapidly and can produce fully mature bamboo plants, the stalks of which can reach up to 20 to 30 feet in height or more, within 3 to 7 years. This is because bamboo is not a wood tree at all, but a type of giant grass, and as such bamboo plants grow to their full height and girth within a single growing season that lasts 3 to 4 months. After the bamboo plant’s shoots die, they fall and are replaced by new ones. Each consecutive shoot that sprouts from the main plant root system is thicker and taller than the one before, and like the one before it, it will achieve its full growth potential during a single growth season.
The Biggest Bamboo
Because of their relatively expedient growth, bamboo forests are of the easiest types of forest for man to reproduce. The largest bamboo tree in existence, in fact, can be found in the bamboo forest institute at the Yunnan Normal University, called the Menghai forest. The Menghai forest is an artificially built forest, and it is home to the largest bamboo tree specimen in the world. The director of the bamboo institute reports that the plant measures 46 meters in height, with 36 centimeters and an estimated weight of 450 kg. This giant bamboo plant, as confirmed by farmers who live and work in or near the forest, grew to its full potential during a single year.
The biggest naturally occurring bamboo forest is the forest of Anji in China, located a 1.5-hour bus ride away from the town of Hangzhou.
The Giant Panda
Bamboo forests are home to a variety of wild animals, among them the most famous endangered species in the world: the giant panda. This is because the main part of a giant panda’s diet is bamboo. To stay in good shape, pandas eat for an average of 14 hours per day, in which they consume a total of approximately 40 pounds of bamboo stalks, twigs and leaves.