Thursday, July 5, 2007

Will Bamboo Save the Earth?

An article in the New York Times covers the oft-praised virtues of bamboo and tells of a new way of overcoming the problems with propagating it. Here is an excerpt:
Bamboo is a workhorse at sequestering carbon dioxide and pumping out oxygen. It is a tough plant that manufactures its own antibacterial compounds and can thrive without pesticides. And its porous fibers make a cloth that breathes and is as soft as silk. In fact, there is such a stampede of fabric designers to China and Japan, where it is farmed and processed — no such industry exists in the United States — that in its May issue, National Geographic predicted that “this upstart fabric may someday compete with King Cotton.”
Yet as the world clamors for more, bamboo is in short supply. A plant that generally flowers only every 60 to 120 years and then dies is hard to propagate from seed. And growing it by dividing existing plants is notoriously difficult.
So when Jackie Heinricher and Randy Burr figured out how to make bamboo in test tubes — selling their first 2,000 plants in 2004 to local garden centers in the Skagit Valley in Washington — they made waves in the world of horticulture.
“It’s funny, because bamboo has this reputation for taking over the universe, and yet it’s the hardest plant to produce,” Ms. Heinricher, a biologist, said one afternoon in early June at the production center for her company, Boo-Shoot Gardens, here in Mount Vernon, a town about two hours north of Seattle.
Ms. Heinricher, who grew up with bamboo — her father tended golden bamboos all around their house in Olympia, Wash. — first tried to propagate the plant in the late 1990’s in a little greenhouse at her home in nearby Anacortes, where she lives with her husband, Guy Thornburgh, a marine biologist, and where she founded Boo-Shoot Gardens in 1998.

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