The Hawaii Chapter of the American Bamboo Society will meet Aug. 12 to work on bamboo propagation. The meeting is open to members and potential members and will be held at the Chong Garden in Fern Acres starting at 1 p.m. For directions, call President Donna Manion at 315-9870.
The old saying that “Rain follows the forest and desert follows man” is becoming more apparent all the time. We just returned from a reforestation project north of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and are seeing the Big Island with fresh eyes. Before you go further, please accept my apology for stepping on toes with the comments made here.
Seeing first hand the mass deforestation happening in Brazil was very depressing. Areas of the Atlantic rain forests and the Amazon that I visited many times over the last four decades are in worse condition than ever before. Our project was to assist in reforestation with native and non-native trees as well as edible fruit trees in an area that had been deforested for pasture.
The plan is to connect some of the few remaining forest patches in the area so that animals like the endangered Golden Lion Tamarin could survive. This species of primate was extinct in the wild and found only in a few zoos. They were reintroduced to the area, but tend to inbreed due to isolation in the patches of forest. By connecting forest patches, this primate can roam more freely to breed and survive.
Although a project like this is worthwhile, all over the region and throughout much of the Amazon, forests are being decimated. This vast area has been a major source of oxygen and removing forests for pasture and crops has contributed to the rapid increase in carbon dioxide over the last century.
There are some who disagree, but global warming continues to be in the news with ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctic melting. Increased carbon dioxide is one issue, but the other side of the coin is decreased oxygen. Extremes of droughts, floods and temperatures further exacerbate this global crisis. Most folks recognize this, and yet you can turn on the radio or television and find there are loud voices denying that we have a problem or that humans have any blame for it.
Some political groups deny that global warming is occurring and call this issue a conspiracy of left-wing extremists headed by Al Gore.
However, this week Dr. Richard Muller of the University of California at Berkeley, who headed research mostly supported by coal and oil interests, has made public his views about our warming planet. In the past, he was vocal and very skeptical of global warming concerns. He now says that based on the research, it is happening and humans are responsible for much of the problem.
What can we do about it?
First, we must be willing to admit to ourselves that we are making a big mess of things, and, second, make some changes. It might mean going so far as to become a vegetarian. It might be something relatively small like planting another tree or saving one from being destroyed.
Some folks are reversing the trend by planting vegetation in areas that have become deforested. Reforestation on the windward side of the Big Island is one example. This includes the reforestation that occurs even in our urban and suburban gardens. Organizations like the outdoor circles, garden clubs, commercial landscape and forestry associations, as well as societies like the American Bamboo Society and Hawaii Island Palm Society, are all doing their part to make a positive difference.
With the closing of our sugar companies, and more land available for diversified agriculture, it is an exciting time for Hawaii. In the years to come, we will have many new opportunities to focus on sustainable tree crops and forestry.
Joining and participating in organizations like the American Bamboo Society, is a big opportunity to get the scoop on this ancient oxygen-producing crop of Asia and networking with people who want to make this world a greener, better place.
Now, let’s look at some of the outstanding bamboos that are being considered for multiple uses in Hawaii’s sustainable agriculture picture.
There are more than 1,200 species of bamboo found from sea level to 10,000 feet in elevation. Most come from Asia, but some outstanding species come from Africa and the Americas. One of the best for construction is the South American genus of Guadua. Culms used in Colombian houses over 100 years old have stood up better than many hardwoods. Some clumping types from the Himalayas are cold hardy and are grown as far north as British Columbia. There are many hardy running types that are used for erosion control in steep road cuts like the Hamakua to Hilo highway. Some folks do not like running bamboos since many species travel where you may not want them. However, some of the best bamboos for eating, crafts, cloth and construction happen to be the running types. There are no such things as bad plants, but it is important to grow them in the right place.
Clumping bamboos are those that stay where you put them and are usually more popular. The genus Dendrocalamus contains some of the biggest bamboos of all. Some grow to 120 feet in height with a culm diameter up to 12 inches. Growth has been recorded at over three feet in one day with the majority of height reached in three months. These are the favorite bamboos in Southeast Asia for construction, crafts and edible shoots. Many will grow from sea level to at least 4,000 feet elevation when given sufficient water and nutrients.
Dendrocalamus asper and D. brandisii are popular for reforestation. Other favorites include Dendrocalamus membranaceus, which reaches up to 70 feet tall with culms four inches in diameter. The leaves are very small and delicate, giving a fern like appearance. Dendrocalamus latiflorus from China reaches 80 feet and culms eight inches in diameter. Both are used in construction, crafts and for edible shoots. They do well from sea level to at least 3,000 feet where they are being tested at Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka. Another large bamboo that is beautiful and edible is Nastus elatus from New Guinea. The plant may reach 50 feet or more and has the look of a weeping willow.
Of course, big isn’t the only thing bamboos “do.” The smallest ones are less than six inches tall, and there are many delicate species of moderate growth that are ideal for the small garden. These include Mexican weeping bamboo, Siamese bamboo, Bambusa nutans from the Himalayas, Bambusa textilis and the many forms of Bambusa multiplex. The latter species contains many beautiful cultivars like Alphonse Karr, fernleaf, Chinese goddess, silver stripe and willowy.
Quindembo Bamboo Nursery, owned and operated by Susan Ruskin and Peter Berg, is one of the main producers of rare bamboos on Hawaii Island. They may be reached at 885-4968. Check out their website at bamboonursery.com. Other folks propagating rare bamboos are Gaia Yoga in lower Puna, Jay Manion in Mountain View and Jim Parker in Hawi.
When you join the Bamboo Society you will enjoy monthly meetings held at different bamboo planting sites in both East and West Hawaii.
For more information on forestry in Hawaii, contact extension forester J.B. Friday at the UH Komohana Ag Complex in Hilo at 959-9155.