The Flowering Bamboo Plant

The flowering Bamboo plant is one of the rarest and most unusual events in all plant life.Find out why here

It is a rare and unusual sight. In fact it is one of the strangest things to occur in all of the plant world. It is the flowering of the bamboo. If you've ever seen a bamboo flower you are very lucky. You see, it only happens very rarely. Depending on the species, it may happen just once in every hundred or so years. But when it does, an amazing trigger mechanism takes effect and every bamboo plant of that species on the planet flowers at exactly the same time.

This phenomena was first noticed in 1976, when Dr. Thomas Soderstrom of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. planted a few bamboo specimens that he had obtained from Puerto Rico in his laboratory. However, the majority of them died and when the last of the plants shed it's last leaves and appeared extremely sickly, the Dr. was all set to forget about his unfortunate attempt at bamboo cultivation. But then the Dr. was contacted by a friend on the island of Puerto Rico who told him that the species was in bloom all over the island. The sickly look and shedding of leafage was a natural precursor to the flowering of the bamboo. Stranger than that, though, was the fact that this particular species had last flowered in 1910 - 66 years earlier!

It appears that most species of bamboo have a built in timing mechanism in the cells that tell the plant when to flower and when to die. This mechanism is miraculously triggered at intervals of between 10 and 120 years, depending on the species of bamboo. At the pre-set time both young and old plants around the world follow the signal. Within a year or two the whole species will die out. But the bamboo species does not die out. It may take up to a decade but regeneration will occur as a result of the numerous rice-kernel like seeds that have been disseminated as a result of the flowering.

The effect of the dying out of a species can be devastating on the people who rely on it for their livelihood. In the Far East, India and South America many millions of people rely on income derived from their part in the cultivation and production of bamboo and bamboo based products. When it's gone so is their means of survival. And so too the natural ecology is upset. The disappearance of the umbrella bamboo, for example, was devastating for the Giant Panda in Szechwan Province, China who rely on it as their principal source of food.

The best man has been able to do is to observe the phenomenon of the synchronised flowering of the bamboo. He cannot explain how this timing trigger effect works or the reason for such vast time differences between species. So, while the hows and whys remain a mystery, we can still marvel at the wonder of this aspect of creation.

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