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Norman Bezona Prof emeritus University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture

Norman Bezona
Prof emeritus
University of Hawaii
College of Tropical Agriculture

Self sufficiency is still the way of life in remote rural parts of Sarawak Borneo. What we would consider villages are longhouses built on pilings over marshy wetland jungle. Crops like banana, taro, manioc, sago palm and oil palm surround the settlements. Some of the longhouses we visited are homes to extended families of up to a hundred or more. With dozens of different tribes including the ones with which we are familiar like the Dayak Iban, Bidayah and Orang Ulu, it would be impossible to describe their cultures and lifestyle unless one was an anthropologist living and studying among the peoples for an extended period of time. During our short time there we did observe that they

are warm, friendly, independent and interdependent folks who live much more simply than we in Hawaii are inclined to do. We met many who were of various religions including Muslim and Christian who were living in harmony.

IMG_2935Along the coast, towns have a different flavor of Chinese and Western influence. Kuching, the capital city of more than six hundred thousand is a mixture of modern and colonial. In the region around Kuching, bamboo and many palms are integrated in to both rural an urban life.

The peoples and cultures of Borneo are going through a rapid transition toward modernization and at the same time are keeping their ties with the natural environment that has nurtured them through thousands of years. We in Hawaii probably would not consider going back to pre colonial times but we can connect with nature through our gardens.

Our gardens have many lessons to teach especially if you have bamboo, palms, fruit trees and other usable plants in the landscape. If you don’t then it is time to plant them. Tomorrow is Independence Day and time to shed those things that do not serve you. That way you may then fill your life anew. Much like the new shoots of bamboo pushing skyward as they shed the culm sheaths that protect them. Also, we can start with a renewed commitment to greening our Islands. Planting bamboo, fruit trees and other usable plants is a great way to accomplish this goal of “semi self sufficiency”.

Let’s start with bamboo. If you want to learn more about bamboo and obtain some new rare species, then come to the Hawaii Chapter of the American Bamboo Society open house and meeting on Sunday noon, July 24th. The event will be held at Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka Kona. The address is 73-1865 Hao street. Use your GPS and watch for the signs. Sunday’s bamboo meeting and tour will start with potluck lunch, so come a bit early to get acquainted and bring your favorite dish. The program on growing and using bamboo will follow. Call HCABS president, Jacqui Marlin at 966-5080 to RSVP, for directions and for other details. You may also check out their website at http://hcabs.webs.com and click on newsletter for details and directions.

Asia is the ancestral home of many locals, both people and plants. When it comes to plants, one of the most valuable of these is bamboo. Although there are many species found in central and South America, tropical and subtropical Asia has utilized bamboo for thousands of years. It is said that bamboo and rice are the very foundation of these cultures. The Hawaiian Ohe Kahiko, may be found in many parts of Polynesia. The actual genus and specie is not clear with taxonomists and botanists not all agreeing. We do know that it is a tropical clumper probably originating in Southeast Asia. It is likely Schizostachyum species. There are vast stands in the mountains of high islands like Raiatea in the Society Islands. Polynesians there still use it in crafts.

With large tracts of land now available for forestry, and our local interest in sustainable agriculture, bamboo may become one of our major resources. It has many uses, both commercial and ornamental. These will be discussed at the Sunday meeting along with discussion of bamboo for food, construction, art and crafts.

Bamboos are also excellent cattle feed and have a place in supplying nutritious greens at a low cost. Society members have been working on the potential of growing bamboos for multiple use sustainable agriculture incorporating the animal feed component, and it looks very encouraging. There are plans to work with UH agronomists in the near future to expand this project by utilizing bamboo for windbreaks and feed.

Even though bamboos are excellent sources of edible shoots and construction material, most folks are interested in ornamental bamboos for their looks. Bamboos, of one type or another, are a natural for almost any tropical garden. In fact, many of the hundreds of types of bamboos do grow in the tropics, but some species grow as far north as New York or Seattle, and can be found growing up to 10,000 feet in the mountains of Asia, Central and South America. Bamboos vary from forest giants of 120 feet to dwarfs of 6 inches.

Many specimens of bamboo are suitable for ornamental purposes. The clumping bamboos are ideally suited for ornamental uses in their area of adaptation. They can be planted in groups for hedges or singly for specimen plantings. They spread very slowly and are easy to keep within bounds. One of the best for sunny locations is the Mexican weeping bamboo. Others to consider are the Bambusa multiplex forms such as Alphonse Karr, Fern leaf, Silver Stripe and Feather bamboo. These delicate clump types range from 10 to 20 feet high. Other rare clumping types are beginning to show up in our nurseries like the Chusqueas, Drepanostachyums, and Fargesias.

For larger gardens, try Buddha’s belly, Oldham bamboo, Punting Pole bamboo, and Weaver’s bamboo. These are all clumping types in the 40 to 50 foot high range with fancy Latin names and multiple uses.

The giant tropical clumping bamboos need plenty of room since they soar from 50 to 120 feet tall under ideal conditions. This group includes the larger Bambusa, Dendrocalamus, Guadua, and Gigantochloa species that may have culms 6 to 12 inches in diameter. They are grown for edible shoots, construction material, windbreaks and furniture. One of the most spectacular giant bamboos for large gardens is Dendrocalamus asper variety “Hitam” with black culms up to 100 feet in height and one foot in diameter.

Miniature bamboos well suited to container growing are the Sasa species and Shibatea kumasasa. These and other running bamboos like black bamboo can be kept small or bonsai when contained. The running bamboos are more difficult to keep in bounds than the clump bamboo. However, many are desirable as ornamental plants because of diversity in their habit of growth, appearance, and size.

Bamboo does best in a moist well drained soil with some organic matter. Apply complete fertilizer such as organic 8-8-8 or manures 4 to 6 times a year to the planting. Mulch the soil around the planting. Mulches add organic matter to the soil, help to restrict the growth of weeds and conserve soil moisture. Dead leaves or dry grass clippings can be used for mulch. Apply a layer of mulching material at least three inches deep. For more details on rare species check out the website bamboonursery.com. One of the most popular new species now is Bambusa chungii variety “Barbie”.