Bambusa atra

Bambusa atra Lindley

Penny Cyclop. 3: 357 (1835).
2n = 72 (hexaploid)

Origin and geographic distribution
B. atra is a native of New Guinea, the Moluccas and Sangihe Island. For map click: Map297.TIF. It has also been reported to occur in the southern part of Mindanao, the Philippines. It is occasionally cultivated elsewhere, e.g. in botanic gardens in Bogor (since 1860), Calcutta and Peradeniya, and has sometimes escaped (e.g. in India).

The thin-walled culm of B. atra is used locally in basketry and other handicrafts. Strips of culms are used as binding material in roofings, fish traps and screens.

Production and international trade
B. atra is only locally collected from the wild. No statistics are available on the trade in handicrafts made from it.

Densely or loosely tufted, sympodial bamboo. Culm up to 8 m tall, 2-4 cm in diameter near the base, wall relatively thin; internodes 35-70 cm long, sometimes only 3 long ones are found in one culm, upper part covered by appressed brown hairs when young, otherwise glabrous and smooth; nodes not prominent. Branches 2-3 at each node in the upper part of the culm, the primary one dominant. Culm sheath thin, 12-18 cm x 8-10 cm, pale brown hairy on the back; blade erect, broadly ovate-lanceolate, 8-15 cm x 4-7 cm, rounded at the base, attached to the sheath by a rather narrow base, hairy towards the base adaxially; ligule 1 mm long with a fringe of 5-6 mm long stiff hairs; auricles 12 mm long, extending horizontally on each side of the base of the blade, bearing rather long bristles along the edge. Leaf blade oblong-lanceolate, 30-60 cm x 5-10 cm, base truncate to cordate; sheath glabrous; ligule short, with long bristles; auricles up to 3 mm long, bearing bristles. Inflorescence usually terminating a leafy branch, comprising groups of pseudospikelets; spikelet laterally compressed, up to 20 mm x 4.5 mm, consisting of 3 glumes, containing up to 12 florets; lemma with long, curved, pointed tip. Caryopsis not known.
B. atra is a rather variable species in which several varieties have been distinguished. In the Moluccas two forms are distinguished: plants with green culms (loleba putih) and plants with purplish-green culms (loleba hitam). Plants growing on wet soils and along river banks have longer culm internodes than plants growing on poor or dry soils. B. atra flowers continuously, and does not die off after flowering.
B. atra has several relatives which are also found in the eastern part of Indonesia and throughout New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, such as B. amahussana Lindley, B. forbesii (Ridley) Holttum, B. hirsuta Holttum and B. solomonensis Holttum. They share similar features such as large leaf blades, inflorescences terminating leafy branches, laterally compressed spikelets and lemmas with long, curved, pointed tips. A critical investigation is needed to find out the taxonomic relationships of these species. It is difficult to differentiate species using herbarium specimens, but in the field they can readily be distinguished from each other.

B. atra is a lowland species, growing along river banks and on lower hill slopes. It is also found on limestone.

B. atra can be propagated by rhizome cuttings. Large-scale plantations do not exist. The culms can be harvested at any time of the year. Local people usually only harvest at a certain phase of the moon.

Genetic resources and breeding
A private germplasm collection is available in Lampung (Sumatra, Indonesia). There are no breeding programmes.

B. atra has a bright future for the handicraft industry. Because the culms are thin, only the skin is used, which guarantees a good handicraft quality. More research is needed on natural variability and appropriate cultivation methods.

E.A. Widjaja

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