Unlike other species, the Bengal bamboo lives largely in areas that have a rainforest environment. To adjust to these conditions, these plants have made many evolutionary changes over the years. In this article, we shall study facts about the Bengal bamboo plant, such as its uses, adaptations, and much more.
The Bengal bamboo is known to grow at exceedingly quick speeds. In fact, when the plant is young, it can sometimes grow 3 feet in less than a day. Due to this, it is rumored that Japanese soldiers used the plant as a method of torture in World War II, by growing it through their prisoners bodies.
Also known as the Calcutta cane or spineless Indian bamboo, the Bengal bamboo (Bambusa tulda) is an important grass plant to many cultures across Asia. It is culturally very significant, and also has many practical uses. This large species is characterized by long, thick, green canes, and may have 2 – 3 sections which are yellow. Its green leaves are long and narrow, and grow on opposite sides of the stem. The plant thrives in warm and moist tropical climates, and compared to other bamboos, it is easy to grow and maintain for landscape gardens.
This species of bamboo grows as an undergrowth in southeast Asian rainforest areas. The trees in these areas are tall and have wide canopies, which do not allow any sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor. This means that, as a young shoot, the bamboo plant may not get enough water and sunlight. To counter these adverse conditions, the Bengal bamboo has several structural adaptations which enable it not only to survive, but to thrive and reproduce at an exceptionally fast rate.
Characteristics and Adaptations
- Like most other species, Bengal bamboos grow very quickly. However, because their rhizomes spread slowly, these plants grow in clumped groups, which helps them survive in the rainforest by protecting them from other trees and plants. This characteristic makes it useful as a semi-open screen/hedge of a garden.
- As a part of its life cycle, these bamboo plants grow in large colonies. The plants of each colony grow together, flower together, and die together. This gives the next generation enough nutrition to start the process all over again, without having to compete with older plants.
- In the wild, this grass can grow up to 80 feet in just 3 months under ideal conditions, with each cane having a diameter nearly 4 inches. This structure and height enables it to reach above the canopy of the rainforests to absorb the sunlight needed for photosynthesis, early in its life.
- The Bengal bamboo requires a large amount of water to survive. This is why it has shallow roots, which absorb water as soon as rain hits the forest floor.
- The arrangement of the vascular cells of these plants is designed to make the most of the rain that is available in the tropics. The vascular bundles are small in size, but large in number, which means that the plant exerts more pressure in the cavities, and brings more water to the top.
- The plant is also composed of a high number of sclerenchyma cells, having thick walls which provide strength and support, and gives it its woody structure.
How Do Bengal Bamboo Plants Reproduce?
Although the plant is a popular choice for roomy landscape gardens, the flowers and seeds are not easily available, and the Bengal bamboo may not flower for stretches of 10 – 30 years at a time. Therefore, the preferred method of reproduction is for the root-like rhizomes to spread underground and produce new shoots, which eventually grow as separate plants.
In rare cases, when the plant does produce seeds, the reproduction process begins with the emergence of flowers on the end of its stalks. The pollen in these flowers can spread by the wind and insects, or be used to self-pollinate the same flower. This results in the production of seeds in the flower head. These seeds can grow into new plants once they mature. However, the immense amount of energy and nutrition put into creating flowers and seeds proves to be too much of a burden. In such cases, the chances of the plant dying are quite high.
Uses of the Plant
- These bamboo plants absorb a large amount of carbon dioxide and release around 30% more oxygen than an equivalent area of trees, which makes them an effective option in slowing the effects of greenhouse gases and global warming.
- In some countries, they are used by farmers as wind breaks.
- The pulp of the Bengal bamboo is used to manufacture a large part of the paper produced in India.
- These plants are also important ecologically, as they prevent soil erosion, prevent floods, and provide shelter to a large number of animals and insects.
- The material from these plants can also be used to make furniture, home accessories, and for reinforcing concrete in construction projects.
- A sacred flute in Bali, called the ‘Eloo’, is made from the Bengal bamboo.
- Its strong, yet flexible structure also makes it ideal for making fishing rods.
- Because it grows to its maximum height in less than 5 months, it is able to provide enough material for human use, despite wide-scale deforestation.
- The Chinese giant panda depends entirely upon the Bengal bamboo for food. It is also eaten by many animals and insects, such as monkeys, gorillas, rats, red pandas, lemurs, and bamboo borer moth larvae.
- Once this bamboo is harvested, it does not need to be planted again, as new shoots will soon return from the root system. Also, they don’t need fertilizers or pesticides, as the fallen leaves provide enough nourishment, and the enzymes in the plant keep most pests away.
- Very importantly, the Bengal bamboo has been an important part of human diet in Asian cultures for thousands of years. It is low in calories and fat, and is a good source of potassium and fiber.
Despite its high growth rate, the pressures of providing for the ever-increasing human needs has taken its toll. It is estimated that over an acre of Bengal bamboo forests are cut down every second. Therefore, this species is now considered to be endangered. Its large number of potential uses makes it essential that conservation efforts are made to protect this amazing plant.