Smithsonian's National Zoo Seeking Bamboo to Bolster Dwindling Supply

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is experiencing a critical and unexpected shortage of its bamboo supply and is reaching out to local landowners and farmers who have bamboo and will allow the Zoo to harvest and manage their crop.

The Zoo is seeking only those bamboo stands that meet the following criteria:

  • Comprise a minimum of one acre
  • Are within a 25- to 30-mile driving distance of the Zoo
  • Are at least 100 feet from a roadway
  • Have not been treated with herbicides or pesticides

The Zoo will accept any species of bamboo, but it is most interested in species of the Phyllostachys genus, which can be identified by two characteristics: a prominent groove running vertically along each segment of the stem and a white ring underneath the stem’s nodes.

Zoo nutritionists will meet with selected landowners to inspect their bamboo and discuss the Zoo’s bamboo-management practices. The Zoo will also take samples to analyze nutrient levels and test for the presence of heavy metals. Ideally, the Zoo is hoping to work with landowners to manage and harvest their bamboo over time.

The Zoo harvests about 75,000 pounds of bamboo a year for its giant pandas, red pandas, Asian elephants, gorillas and other animals. The Zoo’s giant pandas alone are offered 1,400 pounds of bamboo a week.

The Zoo grows bamboo onsite and at several other locations: at its Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va., and at private residences within Washington, D.C., and in Fort Washington, Md., and Fairfax, Va. This year, these bamboo stands are not regrowing as they normally would. The reasons are as yet unknown, but nutritionists hope for better regrowth of all of the stands this spring.

Zoo nutritionists expect to deplete this supply before winter’s end. If the Zoo cannot locate additional stands, it will resort to harvesting bamboo from scant stands around various animal exhibits on Zoo property.

Bamboo Facts

  • There are morethan 1,000 species of this tree-like member of the grass family. SoutheastAsia has nearly half the world’s species, with China having more than anyother country.
  • Bamboo stalks cangrow 2 feet in a single day. Temperate bamboo can grow to its full heightof 60 feet in a couple of months. By contrast, it can take 60 years toreplace a 60-foot tree.
  • Bamboo is composedof a stalk, also called a culm, and a network of underground stems androots. The strong culm is stabilized by a series of reinforced notches,known as nodes.
  • Underground, thebamboo stems, or rhizomes, are so strong that people have taken refugefrom earthquakes in old bamboo groves because they know the rhizomes willhold the earth together.