Heart of Louisiana: Bamboo reaches far beyond uses imagined

Updated: Jan. 19, 2021 at 8:01 PM CST
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WASHINGTON PARISH (WVUE) - It’s very green, extremely fast growing and it’s gaining in popularity with home gardeners and sustainable manufacturing. That plant is bamboo, and it has found a home in the rolling hills of Washington Parish.

This lunch brings a new look to farm to table. The vegetables and meat are mixed with fresh bamboo shoots, and it’s all baked inside a large piece of bamboo that Alain Flexer grows on his 50-acre bamboo farm near Franklinton.

“We have well in excess of a hundred different species on the property,” Flexer, owner of the bamboo nursery, said.

Flexer says he started collecting bamboo in the 1970s, and he has turned that passion for the Asian plant into a bamboo nursery and arboretum.

“We have nice rolling hills also, we’ve got good drainage. So, the plants get wet, but they don’t necessarily stay wet,” Flexer said.

At the bamboo nursery, you wander by one variety after another. There is bamboo with thick stalks, striped, variegated leaves, green stalks, and golden stocks, and some with gold stripes or green stripes.

“This one unfortunately was utilized as a screen. So, it was planted on the property lines and very promptly went to visit the neighbors. This is probably what brought about the, uh, the term damn bamboo,” Flexer said.

You have two very different kinds of bamboo. One of them you can control, but another one can really get away from you.

The one that is easier to control is the clumping varieties. We’ve got an excess of 60 different clumping species as far as the running bamboos. Some of the species we have and the right soils can grow and spread upwards to about 30 feet a year,” Flexer explained.

Bamboo grows at an astonishing speed with some varieties, gaining two to three feet of height in a single day, and bamboo will reach its full size in 60 days.

“10-foot-tall bamboo. Will be able to grow that 10 feet in 60 days or less. 120 foot bamboo will do the same thing in 60 days or less,” Flexer said.

So, we’re looking at bamboo here that’s probably 30, 40, 50 feet tall. We’re talking two months. Flexer said it gets that tall.

The uses of bamboo reach far beyond the home garden and privacy fence.

“Bamboo is incredible. When it comes to pulling carbon dioxide out of the air and pumping clean oxygen back into the, the air, it’s a food, it can be clothing, it can be flooring, it could be structural members in a building,” Flexer said.

And Flexer is eager to share what he has learned in more than 40 years of studying and collecting this plant. He seems to have a real connection to bamboo.

Each bamboo seems to have its own sound. As the wind passes through the leaves. You hear a different sound in the evening as thousands of swallows return at sunset to roost in these thick groves of bamboo.

In addition to taking a tour of the bamboo arboretum, there are occasional classes in cooking with bamboo.

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