Surprisingly, bamboo is a grass, and there are many varieties that can be ‘clumpers ‘or ‘runners’ – all to do with their root growth and structure. Once fully grown, some of the larger species resemble trees with a thick trunk. Much more sustainable than hardwood trees, they are also one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, growing up to 90cm or more a day. Despite bamboo not being native to a lot of countries, Europe’s growing interest in bamboo has paved the way for a new generation of farmers, ecologists, and landscape designers who are introducing bamboo into their plans, and there are at least 5 European countries that are currently growing bamboo – starting with here in Portugal at Bambu Parque, plus La Bambouseraie en Cévennes, France - Labirinto della Masone - Italy, Oprins Nursery - Belgium, and lastly of all unlikely places, Scottish Bamboo in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

In less developed countries, unemployment has often resulted in conflicts and social unrest, but the production and manufacturing of bamboo products can contribute to a more socially and economically stable environment by creating job opportunities. Bamboo is an easy-to-grow crop that provides annual income to some of the poorest rural communities in tropical and subtropical regions, and its rapid establishment and growth allows for frequent harvesting that can be converted into an increasingly wide variety of products for sale, providing a year-round source of income.


It is incredibly strong, and an amazing number of things are made from bamboo, from flooring to furniture and worktops, kitchen equipment, and even sports equipment, plus reusable items such as coffee cups, drinking straws, plates, and bowels. Even clothing such as t-shirts, underwear, and socks can all be made with bamboo, and the companies who make them are proud to produce these sustainable products.


Compared to wood from trees, bamboo wood is more stable, and because it is nearly always laminated or compressed, it has a higher density than most wood types, plus the bonus of being more fire resistant. Processing certainly creates work for those that need it, where the culms (the hollow part of the stem) are split lengthwise into strips and the outer bark is removed. The material is planed and treated (bleached or caramelised) before drying. The strips are then glued and stacked and pressed to form a laminated material. For manufacturing a bamboo fabric, leaves, and shoots are cooked in strong chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulphide, both being highly toxic and risky for human health. Once cooked, the resulting liquid is pushed through tiny holes directly into a chemical bath of sulfuric acid (dangerous again) where it hardens into fine strands. But are any of the processing procedures so eco-friendly?

Credits: envato elements;

Bamboo Torture

Less talked about is its more gruesome use during WW2. ‘Bamboo torture’ was apparently used on prisoners-of-war, where multiple sharpened shoots of this innocent ‘grass’ were placed beneath the back of a horizontal prisoner, like a bed of nails, and these would start piercing through the body and growing through, causing a slow and painful death.

Despite this theory having never been confirmed, there is a huge possibility that it may have really been used.

Panda Food

I have always associated bamboo with pandas in an adorable way. I mean come on, look at them. Cuteness overload or what? Despite conservation projects, there are still less than 2,000 on our planet. A panda's daily diet consists almost entirely of the leaves, stems, and shoots of bamboo, and because it contains very little nutritional value, pandas must eat 12-38 kg every day to meet their energy needs. They lack the digestive enzymes necessary to break down other plants, thus making bamboo their only food source, and they have adapted bamboo into their diet over time due to its abundance in their mountain forest habitats. This adaptation has been aided by the evolution of specialized jaw muscles that allow them to easily chew through tough stalks of bamboo.

They say they’re living proof that you can eat just vegetables and still be fat, so don’t start thinking being a vegetarian is all good!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan