Bamboo: Miracle Fiber?

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I was in a craft store last year and was surprised to see yarn made with bamboo. Shortly after that, I was watching a home improvement show where they were installing bamboo flooring. Since then, I’ve noticed fabrics made with bamboo, and people keeping bamboo houseplants.

In the 1960s, North Americans were introduced to bamboo by the TV series Gilligan’s Island, a show about seven castaways on a relatively deserted island (they discovered natives and other castaways on occasion). They made huts out bamboo, and then it became a running gag to see what the professor could make out of bamboo on almost every show. His bamboo creations included:

-telescope

-record player

-bowling alley

-pedal-driven bamboo water wheel

-golf clubs

-speargun

-hypodermic needle

-geiger counter

-footpedaled car

-padlock

-unicycle powered generator

         -stethoscope

Bamboo textiles and flooring may be relatively new to the North American market, but it has been used extensively for a multitude of purposes in Asia for thousands of years. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing woody plants in the world. Its growth is columnar rather than tapering, it is lightweight and very strong, making it an ideal building material, and its shoots are edible. It is the main food source of the giant panda of China and the red panda of Nepal, and is also a versatile food source for humans.

Bamboo shoots and stems are a good source of nutrients, especially protein and potassium. They are used in a wide variety of dishes, and can be pickled and even fermented to make a sweet wine. Chinese medicine also makes use of bamboo – it has been proven effective in fighting infections.

In addition to being a food source, bamboo is used to make cooking utensils, such as steaming baskets and chopsticks.

As a construction material, the strong, hollow intermodal stems of the bamboo have been used for suspension bridges, ladders, scaffolding and as the main building material for small structures such as huts. Various structural shapes may be made by training the bamboo to assume them as it grows.

Bamboo can be made into paper, musical instruments, and it can even be used as a filter to remove salt from seawater.

This versatile renewable resource can be grown on any continent except Antarctica, which makes it reasonable that it could have been growing wild on Gilligan’s Island. It can grow up to 24 inches a day, so it is plausible that the professor would have an ample supply to construct all of his bamboo inventions.

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