We’ve all heard that bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, but exactly how fast does it grow? According to Guinness World Records, some species of bamboo can grow up to 2.91 feet in a single day. That means it grows almost 1.5 inches every hour!
So, how does this incredibly fast-growing plant grow anyway?
Like all plants, bamboo starts out as a seed. The seed sprouts, grows roots, and develops into a rootstalk. This rootstalk is called the rhizome. As the rhizome grows, it produces more roots and eventually it forms a bud. This bud can either develop into a shoot or another rhizome.
Before we move onto shoots and what happens above ground, let’s take a closer look at the roots and rhizomes of bamboo.
Bamboo is a grass so it has a very shallow root system. The rhizomes of bamboo grow in the top 6 inches of the soil. The rest of the roots only grow in the top 20 inches. Since its roots are so shallow, bamboo does a great job holding the top layer of soil together. As a result, bamboo prevents soil erosion and creates a better environment for additional bamboo plants to grow.
As you read above, the rhizome is the rootstalk of a plant. It is segmented with nodes and roots, shoots, and other rhizomes grow out of these nodes.
Rhizomes are important because their growth pattern determines how the overall colony grows and spreads. Depending on the type of bamboo, rhizomes can grow in one of two ways: vertically or horizontally.
If the rhizome grows vertically, it is clumping bamboo. The rhizomes of clumping bamboo grow upward and directly off each other, causing the bamboo shoots to “clump” together. Consequently, a colony of clumping bamboo is limited to the area directly surrounding it.
If the rhizome grows horizontally, it is running bamboo. This type of rhizome is straight and “runs” away from the bamboo plant. Since the rhizome grows directly outward, running bamboo quickly spreads over a large area of land. When a bud turns into a new rhizome, it follows this same pattern and helps the colony spread even further.
Now that you understand what’s happening underground and how the overall colony grows, let’s look at how an individual bamboo shoot grows and turns into a culm.
Instead of becoming another rhizome, a bud can develop into a shoot. A bamboo shoot is segmented with nodes just like a rhizome. It grows upwards and eventually breaks through the surface of the soil. As it continues to grow, it produces leaves from its nodes to convert sunlight into energy for the rest of the plant. The bamboo shoot continues to grow taller and taller until it reaches its adult height.
The time from when a new shoot emerges and when it reaches its full height is where bamboo grows at a record-breaking speed. In general, it takes a bamboo shoot 60 days to reach its adult height. After that, the shoot never grows in diameter or height again.
A fully grown shoot is called a culm. Culms are the hard, segmented rods that you usually think of when you think of bamboo. While culms never grow any taller, they do replenish their leaves every sprouting season as new bamboo shoots grow around them.
Since bamboo doesn’t grow after the initial shooting period, how does it survive if it is broken or cut down? Rather than regrowing and regaining its lost height, a cut shoot unfurls new leaves. These leaves provide extra energy to the root system and encourage the growth of new shoots. Since bamboo shoots grow so quickly, they easily compensate for the shorter shoot until it reaches the end of its lifespan. This strategy allows bamboo to quickly replenish itself, making it a fantastic renewable resource.
Generally, the lifespan of an individual culm is 10 years. Once the culm reaches the end of its lifespan, it withers and dyes. Its remnants provide extra nutrients to the younger shoots in the bamboo colony and the cycle starts all over again.
Now that you know how bamboo grows, do you want to learn how bamboo goes from being a plant to fabric? If so, read How Bamboo Sheets Are Made.