I wrote last week about the opening of the Qingdao Horticultural Expo, and the INBAR Garden, which highlights the role bamboo and rattan play for horticultural purposes. In Europe and the North America, bamboo is often used as a garden plant or even as interior decoration. However, in other parts of the world, bamboo has many more uses.
In his speech during the opening of the Qingdao Expo last week on 25 April, Tim Briercliffe, Secretary General of the International Association of Horticultural Producers, AIPH, stressed the role of plants and trees in urban planning. He emphasised that research has shown that a green city is a healthier city than an urban environment without plants and trees. Urban trees and plants provide shade and help to cool the micro-climate, they absorb pollution and generate oxygen, and they attract birds, bees and butterflies. In tropical areas, bamboo could pay a key role in urban planning, as it grows fast, it maintains is foliage throughout the year, and it could provide additional resources when cut. INBAR had a visit recently from a group of town planners and architects from HongKong, who are looking into ways and means to use bamboo in their plans, and they are not the only ones. The following photo is taken in Chengdu. southern China, where bamboo is used to create a shade corridor in a park.
Bamboo corridor in Wangjianglou Park, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
The INBAR garden at the Qingdao Expo is a showcase for many of the uses and benefits of bamboo and rattan, and as the EXPO will remain open to the public for 6 months, I hope that many people will visit the INBAR garden to see first-hand what an amazing species these two plants are. The garden has 23 different bamboo species from all over China, although Qingdao is towards the northern margin of the natural range of bamboo. Unlike some of the other gardens that are designed as temporary structures, bamboo can remain in the Qingdao EXPO forever, and we are discussing the possibility of having a permanent presence. The different species are an illustration of the wealth of bamboo, and different species have different uses. Particularly striking bamboo for horticultural and decorative purposes is the turtleshell bamboo (Phyllostachys heterocycla), but we also show the typical Chinese moso bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescence) and the giant bamboo from Yunnan Province (Dendrocalamus sinicus) in the south of China.
The garden designers constructed a traditional bamboo house, to show how round pole bamboo can be used in building sturdy structures. Such bamboo houses are earth-quake proof, as the bamboo will respond to movement, and the joints are all natural without nails or bolts. INBAR has promoted such structures in Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake, and is currently working with partners in Bhutan to enhance building practices there. We are also working with partners in South America to develop affordable, modern bamboo housing examples, and we showcased some of the recent work at the World Urban Forum in Medellin earlier this month.
The path through the INBAR garden is made from decking of engineered bamboo. Bamboo has been used to make indoor parquet flooring for 30 years, and there are many ways to do so, but the use of bamboo for outdoor decks and terraces is a relatively new development. The bamboo planks in the INBAR garden are manufactured with physical treatment, which means less pollution compared to chemical treatment. Manufacturing is a mechanical process of heat and pressure, and the outdoor planks are guaranteed for more than 10 years.
Manufacturers in the USA, Australia and Europe also produce such outdoor bamboo materials, often from raw materials that are imported from Asia. The 2012 trade flow of bamboo and rattan products from Asia to Europe was USD 420 million, 68% of the total export value from Asia to the World, and there is a large internal market in the EU of USD 164 million. This is a market that comprises import of raw materials or partially finished products and export or internal trade of finished goods. Flooring is one of the examples.
There is a small stream in the INBAR garden. We have planted bamboo on the banks, and have used bamboo pieces to create small dams. This aerates the water, and the bamboo on the banks stops soil erosion. The aim is to illustrate how bamboo could be used on larger scale to help protect the banks of waterways, and how constructed wetlands can help with water treatment. Rwanda has a legislation that calls for waterway bank protection by bamboo (10m buffer for riverbanks, 20m for lakeshores) and other countries have also recognised this potential. The concept of manmade wetlands for water treatment has been implemented in many places around the world, especially using reeds and aquatic vegetation, such as the papyrus swamps in Lake Victoria near Kampala in Uganda, but using bamboo is a new approach which can be developed for small communities without mechanical waste water treatment facilities. And by introducing bamboo, we open up the possibility for the local communities to develop new economic activities.
INBAR does not only represent the producers and users of bamboo, but we also a responsible for the sustainable management of rattan. The garden has large bridge and corridor made from rattan, to show how this plant can be used in design and construction. Rattan is mainly found in South East Asia and Central and West Africa. IBAR is discussing with the 10 ASEAN nations how we can develop together a more sustainable future for rattan, including appropriate management of natural resources, planting of rattan to restore depleted sources and assistance with international regulations regarding trade and economic development. I will be visiting the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta in a few days’ time, and I will be discussing the rattan programme with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry.
Finally, we have constructed a building in our garden at the Qingdao Expo which houses some examples of the many household uses of bamboo and rattan. The building is totally made from bamboo and rattan, but the walls are not made from round bamboo poles. We have used strandwoven boards that can be used in any modern construction, and the ceiling is made from bamboo plasterboard. But, we have used some massive round bamboo poles as main supports for the roof structure, to illustrate how one can combine traditional building crafts with modern housing design and construction. The shape of the building is modelled on a sailing boat, and we have the flags of all 39 Members of INBAR flying from the stern.
Inside, there are examples of traditional bamboo painting and calligraphy, but also some modern bamboo weaving products. We have both traditional and modern interior design pieces made from rattan and bamboo, and there are examples of bamboo-based textiles. A word about the textile made from bamboo. Currently, it is difficult to produce yarn from natural fibres, as the industry has not yet discovered an economic solution to lengthen the relatively short bamboo fibres. Most bamboo textiles are there produced from viscose, and this process involves the use of chemicals. However, bamboo viscose is not any worse than viscose made from other raw materials. What makes bamboo viscose environmentally friendly is the fact that the raw product – bamboo is a plant that does not require agro-chemical applications (although some farmers may add fertiliser to speed up growth), grows on marginal lands and slopes, needs little or no irrigation once established, and does not compete with foodcrops. Moreover, as it is a crop, bamboo can be harvested every year, after 3 to 5 years for reaching maturity.
In the bamboo house you can also find some traditional round bamboo and rattan furniture, produced through a very new patented technology that uses round bamboo for handmade high quality furniture. It does not crack, even during the very dry Beijing winter. In the bamboo house you can also find other bamboo products like a bamboo computer keyboard and mouse; a bamboo radio and a bamboo calculator; a selection of bamboo charcoal products, and more.
All-in-all, bamboo and rattan are versatile plants with an immense range of applications and uses. The INBAR garden does not explain the role of bamboo in CO2 sequestration and the fact that it absorbs as much if not more than comparable tree species. It does not talk much about the role of bamboo is restoring degraded lands and helping to bring unproductive soils back into life. It also does not show the important role of bamboo and rattan in biodiversity conservation, as the Chinese giant panda, the Gorillas in Eastern Africa and the Madagascar bamboo lemur all depend on bamboo in nature. And the INBAR garden is not able to present to you some of the ground-breaking research that is still taking place with regards to the production of ethanol and butanol, the potential pharmaceutical properties and chemical applications. But – the INBAR garden in the Qingdao EXPO shows a lot of bamboo and rattan aspects. If you have the chance, please go and visit!