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What is bamboo?

The bamboo plant is a grass with a hard hollow stem that stays green all year round. There are as many as hundreds to as many as thousands of bamboo species growing in different places around the world. In addition, bamboo is a useful multipurpose product. But what kind of plant species is bamboo anyway? The following is a brief explanation of the biology of the bamboo plant, bamboo leaves and what the difference is between bamboo and cotton.

Bamboo plant

Bamboo plants have several characteristics that characterize the bamboo as a bamboo plant. All bamboo species have hard, woody hollow stems and are classified as evergreen grasses. Also, bamboo has only one growing season. This means that no matter what happens, bamboo stands tall year-round and stays green, so the old stems – aka old culms – do not need to be cut. Unlike ferns, for example, which lose their leaves in winter and whose stems must be cut off after winter.

Bamboo is pliable

In addition, bamboo is pliable compared to other plant species. This is beneficial when the bamboo is used as a fence in the garden, for example. But the ductility of bamboo is also an advantage when building structures: in both cases, the ductility ensures that the bamboo will last longer. It is not for nothing, then, that the saying “being as pliable as bamboo” is sometimes referred to in everyday life.

Bamboo species

There are different types of bamboo plants that can be divided into two categories: the proliferating and the non-proliferating bamboo plants. The rampant bamboo plant – also known as sympodial bamboo – grows vertically and has several underground shoots scattered over a large area of land. Because of the vertically spreading rhizomes, a bamboo forest may be created entirely from only one underground bamboo rhizome.

The non-spreading bamboo plant – also called the monopodial bamboo – on the other hand, grows horizontally deeper into the ground and concentrates in one spot. The rhizomes grow into new culms and emerge from the ground not far from the old stems. Because this bamboo species concentrates in one spot, this bamboo plant is suitable as a houseplant or for the garden or balcony. In this case, the bamboo plant can serve as a room divider, to create height or to cover a wall. Finally, these two categories of bamboo plants can be divided into as many as a thousand different species of bamboo.
In the month of May, most bamboo species are in full growth. This can be recognized by the young shoots – also called bamboo shoots – that emerge from the ground everywhere. Therefore, it is important during this growing season to give the bamboo plant extra water during prolonged drought. In some cases, these bamboo shoots are edible, and then spring is also the right time to start harvesting. Read more about how fast bamboo grows.

Bamboo leaves

Spring is also the time when new leaves come out and the old ones are gently pushed away. The bamboo plant has an annual leaf change, providing natural privacy in all seasons of the year. In the optimal climate, bamboo should never even run out of leaves. Read more about pruning bamboo.

Bamboo leaf cycle

Bamboo leaves grow at the end of bamboo stalks and they have a special life cycle. The new leaf – also called lye – emerges in spring as a small bamboo shoot behind the existing leaf. The small sprout grows to the length of a leaf and gently unwinds. At the end of this process, the existing foliage is shed by the plant. The change is gradual and may go unnoticed unless closely monitored.

The leaf undergoes natural aging during the annual leaf cycle. Soil conditions, species and weather can also cause the leaves to show slightly different hues. Leaves at the end of the cycles become more susceptible to bacteria, fungus and even scale insect infections. These are natural phenomena and mechanisms that are not usually transferred to the new foliage.

Once the old foliage has fallen, it is wise to leave the leaves in place. The leaves have several useful functions to perform in bamboo forests. The leaves contain a lot of silica, and bamboo gets its strength from silica. Bamboo leaves are like a natural fertilizer that helps the plant’s growth in future years. Decomposition of the leaves and release of nutrients usually occurs within a year after the foliage falls. The foliage is also useful for suppressing competitive growth of roots in the soil.

Bamboo leaves in use

Bamboo leaves are used in various ways because they are rich in fiber, protein and silica. As a result, bamboo can be used, for example, in tea, beer, medicinal agents, aromatherapy and essential oils. Because bamboo leaves are protein-rich, it can also be used as livestock feed. Current consumer products including paper and textiles focus mainly on the bamboo culms. Because of this, leaves are sometimes overlooked, even though they can be used beneficially in several ways.

Which is better: bamboo or cotton?

Bamboo is increasingly being used as a substitute material. Not only is bamboo used as a substitute material for wood and plastic, for example, but bamboo can also be made into textiles. Bamboo textiles are often referred to as more durable and therefore better than cotton production. In part this is true, but not entirely. In the last few paragraphs, we will address this: which is more sustainable, cotton or bamboo?

Cotton production

Cotton is the most familiar type of textile and is in everyone’s wardrobe. Cotton production often uses pesticides or fertilizers to grow, making the plant stronger. However, this causes the chemicals to break down, creating weak material that is easily damaged. One solution to this is to manufacture organic cotton. Because of the absence of the harmful chemicals, clothes or other textiles made from organic cotton therefore last longer without tears or holes. In addition, cotton is easy to maintain because the fabric does not require any special washing practices.

In cotton production, the cotton passes through a machine that separates the fibers from the seeds and other residues so they can be spun into yarn. This yarn can then be woven or prepared into fabric. After production, the finished product is prepared for the next customer by bleaching/dyeing/printing/etc.

Bamboo production

Bamboo, on the other hand, is a regenerating plant, meaning it does not need to be replanted every year to produce. The bamboo plant also uses only one-third of the water that the cotton plant uses, and it can grow in a variety of climates. It also has thicker and stronger fibers, making it a durable fabric. A bamboo fiber can absorb a lot of moisture, so less dye is needed for coloring. On top of that, it is also an anti-allergic fabric and very soft. Also, bamboo textiles have antimicrobial properties, preventing unpleasant odors and helping to reduce the bacteria that go into clothing.

Chemical production

Ultimately, there are two ways to process bamboo textiles: chemically and mechanically. When chemicals are used, the bamboo is boiled and then bleached several times. The bamboo fibers used to make bamboo textile products are often chemically processed. This is the “cooking” of the bamboo using strong chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, combined with multiple stages of bleaching. It is then hardened again with a sulfuric acid solution, after which it can be made into a fiber. Moreover, in addition, the chemicals are not recycled and are therefore often discharged into the water.

Mechanical manufacturing

When the bamboo plant is processed mechanically, the stalks are crushed and naturally dissolving enzymes are used to create a mushy pile. After this, all intact fibers are combed out of the remaining “slurry” and spun into yarn. This same process is also used for linen, flax and hemp. Bambooi also has a similar production process, only it does not spin yarn from it, but prints paper from it. The bamboo may be washed in caustic soda, but this is a natural substance and 100% biodegradable. It is important to mention that the production process of Bamboi bamboo toilet paper is different from the chemical production process of bamboo textiles.

In short, bamboo is a versatile plant that can be used for a variety of purposes. The bamboo plant stays green year-round and is very pliable. From the stems of the bamboo plant grow the leaves, which carry multiple health benefits and can also serve as animal feed due to its high protein content. Finally, bamboo production differs greatly from cotton production. Provided that bamboo production is carried out mechanically, which is the case with Bamboi toilet paper, it can be concluded that bamboo production is more sustainable than cotton production.

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