Bamboo has an unparalleled history; it is very old, and at the same time very new. Bamboo extends far beyond the boundaries of most plants – it is distributed widely throughout the world, and is utilized by hundreds of millions of people in a great number of ways. Through its myriad uses as food, clothing, paper and shelter, bamboo has met the physical and spiritual requirements of humanity since the earliest times. It is believed that the first books were written on bamboo, and there is evidence that it was used by humans more than 5,000 years ago for the framework of housing as well as musical instruments.
It also occurs in the creation beliefs of cultures across the globe. Bamboo plays a vital role in the survival of many animals and ecosystems as well as having unique characteristics, offering potential solutions to modern ecological dilemmas – it grows extremely quickly, for example, making it an easily renewable resource. With the advent of modern research and technologies, the use of bamboo has increased dramatically, elevating its importance to human society – it can now be found in the filaments of light bulbs, the skins of airplanes and the reinforcements of concrete. Bamboo is even a new material for today's modern bicycles. Bamboo draws on a vast array of sources to build a complete picture of bamboo in both history and our modern world.
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Susanne Lucas is Executive Director of the World Bamboo Organization and a horticulturist, designer, landscape gardener and consultant based in Plymouth, Massachusetts.