BAMBU'SA, the Bamboo, a genus of Grasses, well known for its great economical.importanee, but consisting of species which are very imperfectly understood by botanists. It is remarkable in structure, among other things, for having only one style, which is more or less deeply two-or three-parted, three minute scales at the base of its ovary, and six stamens.
It is doubtful whether nature has conferred upon the inhabitants of hot countries any boon more valuable than the Bamboo, unless it be the Cocoa-Nut ; to such a multitude of useful purposes are its light, strong, and graceful stems applicable. These are universally pushed forth by a strong, jointed, subterranean, creeping rootstock, which is the true trunk of the Bamboo, the shoots being the branches. The latter are hard externally and coated with flint ; in the inside they are hollow, except at the nodes, where strong partitions stretch across the inside, and cut off the interior into a number of closed-up cylin ders. In the cavity of these cylinders water is sometimes secreted, or, less commonly, an opaque white substance, becoming opaline when wetted, consisting of a flinty secretion, of which the plant divests itself, called Tabasheer, concerning the optical properties of which Sir David Brewster has made some curious discoveries.
In their manner of growth they exhibit a beautiful example of a contrivance by which they are enabled to grow into the dense tufts which they usually form. When full-grown a bamboo is a straight rod, bearing a number of stiff branches, which shoot at nearly right angles from the main stem ; and it is difficult to conceive by what arrange ment such a stem elevates itself through the dense mass of rigid branches which cross each other in every direction. This is however contrived by nature in a very simple manner. The young shoot of a bamboo, whatever its length may be, when it is first produced, is a perfectly simple sucker, like a shoot of asparagus, but having a sharp point, and in this state it pierces readily the dense overhanging branches ; it is only when it has arrived at its full length and has penetrated through all obstacles, that it begins to form its lateral shoots ; and these, which are emitted horizontally, readily interpose themselves between the horizontal laterals of the bamboo stems among which they grow. In the words of Dr. Roxburgh, the shoots, on their first appearance, resemble a large straight elephant's tusk invested in stout leathery sheaths.
The purposes to which different species of Bamboo are applied are So numerous that it would be difficult to point out an object in which strength and elasticity are requisite, and for which lightness is no objection, to which the stems are not adapted in the countries where they grow. The young shoots of some species are cut when tender, and eaten like asparagus. The full-grown stems, while green, form elegant cases, exhaling a perpetual moisture, and capable of transport ing fresh flowers for hundreds of miles : when ripe and hard they are converted into bows, arrows, and quivers, lance-shafts, the masts of vessels, bed-posts, walking-sticks, the poles of palanquins; the floors and supporters of rustic bridges, and a variety of similar purposes.
In a growing state the spiny kinds are formed into stockades, which are impenetrable to any but regular infantry, aided by artillery. By notching their sides the Malays make wonderfully light scaling-ladders, which can be conveyed with facility where heavier machines could not be transported. Bruised and crushed in water, the leaves and stems form Chinese paper, the finer qualities of which are only improved by a mixture of raw cotton and by more careful pounding. The leaves of a small species are the material used by the Chinese for the lining of their tea-chests. Cut into lengths and the partitions knocked out, they form durable water-pipes, or by a little contrivance are made into excellent cases for holding rolls of paper. Slit into strips they afford a most durable material for weaving into mats, baskets, window-blinds, and even the sails of boats. Finally, the larger and thicker truncheons are exquisitely carved by the Chinese into beautiful ornaments. It is however more especially for building purposes that the bamboo is important. According to 3Iarsdeu, in Sumatra the frame-work of the houses of the natives is chiefly composed of this material. In the floorings, whole stems, four or five inches in diameter, arc laid close to each other, and across these stems laths of split bamboo about an inch wide are fastened down with filaments of the rattan-cane. The sides of the houses are closed in with the bamboo opened, and rendered flat by splitting or notching the circular joints ou the outside, chipping away the corresponding divisions within, and laying it in the sun to dry, pressed down with weights. Whole bamboos often form the upright timbers, and the house is generally roofed in with a thatch of narrow split bamboos, six feet long, placed in regular layers, each reaching within two feet of the extremity of that beneath it, by which a treble covering is formed. Another and most ingenious roof is also formed by cutting large straight baniboos of sufficient length to reach from the ridge to the'eaves, then splitting them exactly in two, knock ing out the partitions, and arranging them in close order with the hollow or inner sides uppermost ; after which a second layer, with the outer or convex sides up, is placed upon the other in such a manner that each of the convex pieces falls into the two contiguous concavo pieces, covering their edges ; the latter serving as gutters to carry off the rain that falls upon the upper or convex layer.