Bambusa vulgaris

Bambusa vulgaris Schrader ex Wendland

Collect. pl. 2: 26, t. 47 (1810).
2n = 72 (hexaploid)

Origin and geographic distribution
B. vulgaris originated in the Old World, probably in tropical Asia. It is arguably the most widely cultivated bamboo throughout the tropics and subtropics, but is also found spontaneously or naturalized on river banks. In South-East Asia it is the most commonly encountered cultivated bamboo, found everywhere in villages, on river banks and as an ornamental in towns. For map click: Map85.TIF.

Although the culm of B. vulgaris is not straight, it is the most used of all bamboos. The culms are used e.g. in boats for masts, rudders, outriggers, boating poles, as carrying poles, for fencing and props. It is rarely used as a building material because it is very susceptible to powder-post beetle attack. If no other bamboo is available for building purposes, the culms are used in temporary constructions, for example as wattle in outhouses or barns in Sri Lanka. In El Salvador, split culms are used to support and protect walls. The culms furnish the main material for the bamboo furniture industry and they also produce good quality pulp to make paper. In Irian Jaya (Indonesia) culms are used to make traditional combs and penis gourds ('koteka') in the phallocrypt tradition. The very young shoots are edible but are rarely sold as a vegetable. Water in which young shoots of the yellow culm form have been boiled is used as a medicine to cure hepatitis. Plants of the yellow culm group and the Buddha's belly group are often planted as ornamentals. Plants of the green and yellow culm groups are often planted as hedges to border land. Leaves of B. vulgaris are sometimes used as forage.

Production and international trade
The worldwide production and trade of B. vulgaris and derived products is considerable, but no statistics are available.
Production and use are mainly local and at village level. Large-scale commercial activities include production and trade of furniture, handicrafts and paper. Young shoots of B. vulgaris are rarely sold in the market because they become too fibrous for vegetable use if not consumed immediately after harvesting.

Fibre dimensions for green-culm cultivars of B. vulgaris are: length 2.02-2.82 mm, diameter 13.0-17.0 µm, lumen diameter 2.7-5.5 µm, wall thickness 5.7-7.0 µm; for yellow-culm cultivars: length 1.66-3.76 mm, diameter 17-21 µm, lumen diameter 2-5 µm, wall thickness 6-8 µm. For green-culm cultivars the density at 12% moisture content is about 626 kg/m3, and shrinkage from green to 11.3% moisture content is 9.7-14.0% radial, 6.0-11.9% tangential and 0.26-0.41% longitudinal. For yellow-culm cultivars the density at 12% moisture content is about 630 kg/m3. For green-culm cultivars average mechanical properties at respectively 40% and 17% moisture contents are: modulus of rupture 106.6 N/mm2 and 84.3 N/mm2, compression strength parallel to grain 31.6 N/mm2 and 24.9 N/mm2 and shear strength 9.77 N/mm2 and 6.64 N/mm2. For yellow-culm cultivars average mechanical properties at respectively 90% and 16% moisture contents are: modulus of elasticity 6960 N/mm2 and (no data) modulus of rupture 60.9 N/mm2 and 86.0 N/mm2, compression strength parallel to grain 28.2 N/mm2 and 32.0 N/mm2, shear strength 4.53 N/mm2 and 4.26 N/mm2. For green-culm cultivars and yellow-culm cultivars the average chemical composition is respectively: holocellulose 66.5% and 63.6%, pentosans 21.1% and 21.5%, lignin 26.9% and 25.9%, ash 2.4% and 3.0%, silica 1.5% and 1.3%; solubility in hot water 5.1% and 3.9%, in alcohol-benzene 4.1% and 3.7%, in 1% NaOH 27.9% and 24.7%. Young shoots have an average fresh weight of 2085 g before peeling and 375 g after peeling, giving an edible portion of about 18%. They are whitish-pink in colour, are tender and have a fair canning quality. The approximate chemical composition of young shoots per 100 g edible portion for green-culm and yellow-culm cultivars respectively is: water 90 g and 88 g, protein 2.6 g and 1.8 g, fat 4.1 g and 7.2 g, carbohydrates 0.4 g and 0 g, fibre 1.1 g and 1.2 g, ash 0.9 g and 0.8 g, Ca 22.8 mg and 28.6 mg, P 37 mg and 27.5 mg, Fe 1.1 mg and 1.4 mg, vitamin C 3.1 mg and 0 mg. Dried leaves, used as forage, contain amongst others: water 8.6%, protein 10.1%, ether extract 2.5%, fibre 21.7%, ash 21.3%, P 0.0860%, Fe 0.0134%, vitamin B1 0.0001%, vitamin B2 0.0025%, carotene 0.0123%.

Open, not closely tufted, sympodial bamboo. Culm erect, sinuous or slightly zig-zag, 10-20 m tall, 4-10 cm in diameter, wall 7-15 mm thick, glossy green, yellow, or yellow with green stripes; internodes 20-45 cm long, with appressed dark hairs and white waxy when young, becoming glabrous, smooth and shiny with age; nodes oblique, slightly swollen, basal ones covered with aerial roots. Branches arising from midculm nodes upward, occasionally also at lower nodes, several to many at each node with primary branch dominant. Culm sheath more or less broadly triangular, 15-45 cm x 20 cm, upper ones longest, deciduous, light green or stramineous, covered with appressed black hairs, margins hairy, apex slightly rounded at the junction with the blade; blade erect, broadly triangular, 4-5 cm x 5-6 cm, slightly narrowed at the junction with the sheath, stiffly acuminate, hairy on both surfaces and along the lower part of the margins; ligule 3 mm long, slightly serrated; auricles relatively large, 0.5-2 cm long, with pale brown bristles 3-8 mm long along the edges. Young shoots yellow-green, covered with black hairs. Leaf blade 6-30 cm x 1-4 cm, glabrous; ligule a subentire rim 0.5-1.5 mm long; auricles small rounded lobes 0.5-1.5 mm long with a few bristles 1-3 mm long. Inflorescence usually borne on a leafless branch of a leafless culm or on a culm with small leaves, bearing small groups of pseudospikelets at the nodes, 2-6 cm apart; spikelet 12-19(-35) mm x 4-5 mm, laterally flattened, comprising 5-10 perfect florets and a terminal vestigial floret. Caryopsis not known.

Growth and development
In Bangladesh, rhizome cuttings (offsets) of B. vulgaris develop into mature clumps producing culms of maximum length in about 7 years. Culms reach the maximum diameter after 9 years. The clumps expand rapidly the first 5-6 years (from 0.5 m diameter in first year to 4.5 m in 6th year) and slower thereafter (after 10 years to 7 m). The number of young shoots per clump that develop into full-grown culms increases on average from 1.6 in the first year to a maximum of 5.3 in the 4th year and decreases to 2.5-3.5 from the 9th year onward. Young shoots of B. vulgaris grow rapidly. In 2 weeks they can develop into young culms 3-4 m tall, reaching 20 m length in 3 months. On average, a mature clump produces 3-4 new culms per year and bears 50-90 culms (green culm group) or 30-60 culms (yellow culm group). Young shoot growth occurs in the rainy season; for example, extending over 1-3 months in the Philippines. Young shoots emerging in the later part of the rainy season grow faster and become taller than the ones starting at the beginning. A mature green culm of B. vulgaris weighs about 16 kg, the green weight of its branches is about 5 kg and of its leaves 3 kg. It reaches maximum diameter about 4 m above the ground and the wall is thickest at ground level. It develops about 43 nodes and the longest internode is at about 2-3 m above the first branch. Flowering in B. vulgaris is not common. When a culm flowers, it produces a large number of flowers but no fruits, and eventually the culm dies. It is remarkable that in spite of never having reproduced sexually (as far as is known), B. vulgaris is still one of the most vigorous of all known bamboos.

Other botanical information
B. vulgaris is the most easily recognized species of all known bamboos. In a young culm, the primary branches are prominent, borne alternately along the culm, together forming a gigantic fan-like structure which is conspicuous from some distance.
B. vulgaris is essentially only known from cultivation (although escaped, naturalized populations exist), and it is grown pantropically. Its variability is great. Classification of the different forms should preferably be done at cultivar level (e.g. cultivar groups, cultivars). A thorough study of the worldwide variation is necessary. At least three groupings of cultivars can be distinguished:
-Green culm group. Culms green. Existing name: B. vulgaris var. vulgaris (thought to comprise the type of B. vulgaris). Vernacular names: Indonesia: bambu ampel, haur. Malaysia: buloh aur, buloh pau, buloh minyak.
-Yellow culm group. Culms yellow, often with green stripes of different intensity. Usually the culms have thicker walls than the green culms. Culm sheaths light green with light yellow-green stripes. Existing names: B. striata Lodd. ex Lindley (1835), B. vulgaris var. vittata A. Rivière (1878), B. vulgaris var. striata (Lodd. ex Lindley) Gamble (1896), Leleba vulgaris (Schrader ex Wendland) Nakai var. striata (Lodd. ex Lindley) Nakai (1933), B. vulgaris cv. Vittata (McClure, 1955). Vernacular names: Golden bamboo (En). Indonesia: bambu kuning. Malaysia: buloh gading, aur gading, buloh kuning. Sabah: tamalang silau (Dusun). Philippines: yellow bamboo (Tagalog).
-Buddha's belly group. Culms up to about 3 m tall, 1-3 cm in diameter, green, with short, 4-10 cm long, inflated internodes in lower part. Existing names: Bambusa? wamin Brandis ex Camus (1913), B. vulgaris cv. Wamin (McClure, 1966), B. vulgaris f. waminii T.H. Wen (1985). Vernacular names: Buddha's belly bamboo (En). Indonesia: bambu blenduk. Burma (Myanmar): wamin. This group probably originates from southern China.

B. vulgaris can be found growing pantropically from low elevation up to 1200 m altitude. It grows best at low altitudes; above 1000 m altitude culms become smaller in length and diameter. It thrives under a wide range of moisture and soil conditions. Along rivers and lakes it grows almost in permanently humid conditions, but it also grows in areas with a severe dry season where the plants become completely defoliated. It is frost hardy to -3ºC. In South-East Asia the green-culm plants are widely naturalized on river banks, road sides, wastelands and open ground. In Peninsular Malaysia it even grows well on degraded soils containing tin.

Propagation and planting
B. vulgaris can be propagated by rhizome, culm and branch cuttings, by layering and by tissue culture. Rhizome cuttings (offsets) always give a good result when taken from 1-2-year-old culms, but damage the mother clump and are not convenient for large-scale plantations. The easiest and most practiced propagation method is by culm or branch cuttings. In general, parts should preferably be taken from culms that are neither too young nor too old. In the Philippines, best results have been obtained with one-node cuttings from the lower parts of 6-month-old culms, planted horizontally in moist soil at about 20 cm depth. Treating of cuttings with a 100 ppm solution of the growth hormone indole butyric acid gave better results. Planting during the late rainy season period is recommended, at planting distance 6-12 m x 6-12 m. The often apparently wild occurrence of B. vulgaris can easily be explained by its remarkably easy vegetative propagation. Culms are often used for boating poles, and because B. vulgaris is easily available the poles are often thrown away after being used. If such poles have been freshly cut from a living plant, the piece of culm may survive and produce roots and establish new growth on river banks. Clumps may also be established from pieces of culms used for fences, props, stakes and posts set on river banks for mooring boats.

Weeding in the first 2-3 years after planting, 2-3 times per year, preferably during the rainy season, is recommended. Irrigation and fertilizer application (e.g. 20-30 kg N, 10-15 kg P, 10-15 kg K and 20-30 kg Si per ha per year) considerably improve growth and yield.

Diseases and pests
No serious diseases in B. vulgaris have been reported in South-East Asia. The most serious disease of B. vulgaris in Bangladesh is bamboo blight, caused by Sarocladium oryzae, killing affected clumps within 3-4 years. Harvested culms are very vulnerable to attack of powder-post beetles (Dinoderus spp.). Termite damage can be serious, especially of harvested culms in contact with ground.

Being the most common village bamboo, culms of B. vulgaris are harvested whenever needed. Normally, harvesting may start 3 years after planting. Full production is reached 6-8 years after planting. Selective cutting of culms 2-year-old or older is recommended. Young shoots should be harvested in the first week of their emergence.

For the Philippines, annual yield per ha is estimated at 2250 culms or 20 t dry weight. The dry weight ratio for culm, branches and leaves is about 70%, 22% and 8% respectively. The ratio paperpulp/culm production is about one-third.

Handling after harvest
Traditionally, harvested culms of B. vulgaris are immersed in running or muddy water for about 3 months. Because culms are very susceptible to powder-post beetles, chemical preservation is necessary if long-term use is intended. Young shoots should be consumed or prepared immediately after harvesting because they become inedible within some hours if left untreated.

Genetic resources and breeding
A small germplasm collection of B. vulgaris is available in Lampung, Sumatra (Indonesia). This bamboo is represented in most botanical gardens in the tropics. There are no breeding programmes. Because of the wide variability of this bamboo, extensive, worldwide germplasm collection is recommended.

Prospects for B. vulgaris are promising. Because of its common occurrence, its easy propagation and its wide uses, B. vulgaris will remain very important. Developmental research on appropriate technologies applicable at the village level (e.g. on chemical preservation) is much needed.

S. Dransfield and E.A. Widjaja

For additional information about author(s) see Contributors or Editors.