The Bam in Bamboo

Bamboo by Hsu Wei, Ming Dynasty. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I talked a little bit about bamboo last week’s Foodie Tuesday post. But it would deprive us all if I were to wax poetic about bamboo shoots as a food source and miss out on the wonder and beauty of this plant’s fully grown glory, which punctuates just about every patch of green in many Asian countries, that it has defined a great part of Asian culture and design.

Bamboo Grove in Orto Botanico. Via Jeffrey Gardens.

For millennia, bamboo has been integral to the mundane, the marvelous, the mystical. It has been used in medicine and in made into utilitarian objects — basic tools, cannons, spears, kitchen implements, carts, and rafts. But it has also been made into musical instruments, dance props, and provided inspiration to countless poets and painters.

Here’s a video of a musical performance in Vietnam using bamboo instruments.

Bamboo is one of the “Four Gentlemen” (a.k.a., the Four Seasons) depicted in Asian art, along with the orchid, chrysanthemum, and plum blossom. Bamboo represents summer, and symbolizes strength, uprightness, and open-heartedness — all ideal qualities in a gentlemen.

An antique Japanese screen depicting bamboo plants. Via Midori Gallery.

Many Asian cultures incorporate bamboo in their dance. In the Philippines, there is a traditional dance called tinikling (so named after a small bird’s hopping movements) which is characterized a lively, playful, and quick-footed movements that dodge pairs of rhythmically clapping bamboo poles. It’s sort of like double-dutch, but with bamboo poles.

Tinikling Dance. Via Likha.

Bamboo has long been a familiar feature in Asian landscape and it has been  an indispensable building material for eons. And now the world is rediscovering and appreciating more fully the durability, versatility, and sustainability of this plant.


Even when the architecture becomes more modern, more sophisticated, bamboo brings the same warmth and charm that one would experience even from a simple bamboo hut.

Origami-inspired bamboo huts. Image via Inhabitat.

Mason Lane Farm. Via Design Boom.

House by Tonji University Team

Bamboo House at the 2010 Solar Decathlon. Image via Design Boom.

Bamboo House detail. Via Design Boom.

Bamboo schoolhouse in Bali, Indonesia. via Green School.


Bamboo is said to be ideal for kitchen use because of it doesn’t breed germs. There is still some debate as to whether it retains its antibacterial properties after it has been processed, but they make such lovely and durable utensils.

Bamboo Cutting Board

Chopping board made of bamboo. Via Chef's Catalog

Bamboo Steamer

Steamer set by JIA. Image via Design Milk

Bamboo Fabric

Bamboo could be the new cotton. It’s soft, highly absorbent, hypoallergenic, and earth-friendly. Some time ago I had the chance to hold and feel in my hands a towel made from bamboo fibers, and oh myyyyy… I have never felt anything so soft and decadent. It was delicious! It’s a tad pricey, but it felt sooo good!

Bamboo Towels. Via Bamboo KI.

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