Illuminating bamboo

One of the bamboos that grows wild in Australia. It's a picture given to me by Dr Surrey Jacobs and I think it's Bambosa arnhemica, a species transported to the tropical north before European settlement.

Margaret-Ann Smith of Brooklyn, one of our treasured Volunteer Guides at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, says that when Thomas Edison built his first light bulb, the filament was made from a slither of charred bamboo.

And what a good, sustainable choice that was. The bamboo grows faster than any other woody plant, making it one of the world’s most renewable resources.

As Margaret-Ann will relate in a guided walk, bamboo has thousands of traditional and modern uses that range from building material to tasty snacks, wine, weapons, musical instruments, culinary utensils, chic fashion wear, quilt wadding and nappies.

According to our media release (written by Public Relations Manager Kerry Brown): 'Margaret-Anne, a former teacher, has been a volunteer guide at the Gardens for almost twenty years, catching a boat, train and bus from her Hawkesbury River home to lead tours that she researches on the plants and history of the oldest garden and scientific institution in the country'.
Margaret-Ann is aware of the reputation bamboo has in horticulture: 'Many of the bamboos that were brought out here from England are runners that weren’t necessarily a problem there but take off here'. She says 'People are growing the wrong bamboos. They should be growing clumping species.' (Although, as you might have seen on Gardening Australia on the weekend,
if you are willing to put in some hard work, the spreading bamboos can be rewarding.)

To most people, bamboos are synonymous with Asia, particularly China. Of the 1,200 species (and 50–70 genera) of bamboo worldwide, 400 grow in China, where they sometimes form extensive forests and of course support one of the most intriguing of mammals, the Giant Panda. But bamboos do grow on other continents, with over 500 species growing naturally in the Americas.

In Australia there are two species of bamboo native to the country, both in tropical Australia. A third, Bambosa arnhemica, was probably introduced but before the 200 or so years of European settlement. But that's another story (if you can chase down an old issue of Nature Australia from 2004 - volume 28, number 3 - look up my story called 'Bamboozled').

At 2-4 pm, on Saturday 23 May, you can find our more from Margaret-Ann about this amazing plant at the Maiden Theatre, followed by afternoon tea on bamboo plates and a guided stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens' collection - all for $15. Bookings 9231 8304.