It could be the Swiss Army knife of the plant world, but you can't eat Swiss Army knives.
Bamboo shoots and Szechwan beef anyone?
China's giant pandas have long appreciated bamboo as an entree, but only in recent years has the grass (no, it's not a tree) started showing up in everything from flooring ads to clothing boutiques.
If you're in touch with your metaphysical self, bamboo can give you good mojo. It can help your business prosper, make you live longer and send evil spirits scampering.
It can also give you a floor tougher than many hardwoods, shirts soft as silk for your closet and a garden with tropical flair.
Mr. Tough Guy
That's no hardwood, but it's hard wood.
Woven bamboo, it's called. It's harder than most hardwoods and three times harder than traditional bamboo floors.
So says Lewis Buchner, CEO of EcoTimber, a California company that introduced the product early this year.
Traditional bamboo flooring is made from slats created by boiling the sliced, hollow stems and pressing them flat. The slats are glued together.
For woven bamboo, the stalks are slightly crushed so that they break into long fibers, about the diameter of chopsticks. They're mixed with a nontoxic resin, then subjected to high heat and pressure.
"You get a flooring board that looks more like hardwood than it looks like bamboo," Buchner says.
The green movement has advanced the use of bamboo flooring because bamboo can be replenished so much faster than hardwood.
But Buchner points out there's also a big environmental benefit in choosing hardwood from sustainable, managed forests.
If everyone switched to bamboo, the managed forests might be eliminated, Buchner says. Buyers of hardwood should make sure their floor comes from a forest certified by the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council.
"Then those forests will be around for a long time."
It's Tough On Bad Chi, Too
There's rearranging the furniture, and there's rearranging the energy. The latter is feng shui, an ancient Chinese philosophy that says certain things in certain places create harmony - a good flow of energy.
What keeps the bad energy out of your house? Bamboo, of course.
Because it is green in color and flourishes throughout the year, bamboo symbolizes endurance, longevity and durability, Alex Kwang writes on the Web site www.bamboofengshui.com.
A live plant works, but bamboo wind chimes or a flute works just as well, Kwang writes.
Lucky bamboo, a look-alike lily, is big in feng shui. Billie Odor of Inner Healings and Associates Inc. of Brandon likes to put eight stalks in a vase. Eight, she says, will get you money.
Bamboo By The Yard
If a bamboo shirt sounds as appealing as a hair shirt - stiff, scratchy and, well, knobby - you obviously haven't tried one on.
"When you feel it, it is so unbelievably soft," says Daniel Jacobs, owner of Shirts of Bamboo in St. Petersburg.
Some bamboo fabrics are like linen or flax. They're made from fibers pulled from the stalks, or culms. Others are more like rayon, created from the entire stalk.
Bamboo and organic cotton may be combined for more of a T-shirt fabric.
Bamboo textiles is a pretty new industry; the process was developed about six years ago in China, says Jacobs, who opened his business in 2005.
He sells online and also operates a stand at the Saturday Morning Market, which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekly at Central Avenue and Second Street in St. Petersburg. For information, go to www.shirtsofbamboo.com.
Bamboo In The Yard
Fast-growing bamboo can be a dramatic landscape element, as well as a natural privacy screen. But a lot of people steer clear because they fear they'll turn their neighborhood into an Asian forest.
And rightly so. Bamboo loves to spread, a blessing as much as a curse.
You can have your bamboo and love it, too, if you plant tropical bamboo, says Roy Rogers, who has had a 30-year love affair with the plant. Tropical grows in clumps instead of runners, he says.
About 30 varieties grow on three-quarters of an acre behind his West Tampa home. Most are tropical and planted in the ground. The spreading kinds are tucked safely into containers.
He recommends a few varieties of the tropical to consider for your yard:
•Gigantochloa atroviolacea. Called tropical black, it features stunning black stalks divided by green bands. It will grow 40 feet and taller in sun to partial shade.
•Bambusa chungii. Tropical blue has a fine white wax coating on the culms that makes them appear pale blue. It grows 20 to 30 feet tall and prefers light shade.
•Bambusa oldhamii. Tropical timber is the biggest of the big, Rogers says. It climbs more than 40 feet tall with culms 4 inches in diameter and grows straight, which limits its footprint on the ground. It prefers full sun.
•Bambusa textilis mutabilis. Emerald bamboo has a clean look; the leaves start about 18 feet up. It grows 30 to 40 feet in full sun.
Rogers cautions that bamboo tends to grow thicker and taller in Florida because of the hot, humid and rainy summers.
After planting, water a couple of times a week. Once bamboo has enjoyed a rainy Florida summer, it usually becomes drought-tolerant.