News Service


Lynn Clark, Botany, (515) 294-8218
Arianna McKinney, News Service, (515) 294-6881
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- For Lynn Clark bamboo is more than a food staple for the panda bear in China. In fact, Clark, an Iowa State associate professor of botany, said there are more than 500 American bamboo species (mostly in Latin America), ranging from tall, woody stemmed ones to smaller fern-like bamboos.

"Bamboo diversity [in the Americas] is almost as great, if not greater, than what you find in Asia," Clark noted.

To increase awareness of bamboos, Clark recently co-wrote "American Bamboos," a book that explores bamboo biodiversity in the Western Hemisphere. The book covers characteristics and varieties of bamboo, bamboo ecology, uses of bamboo and cultivation of bamboo.

Clark's co-authors are Emmet Judziewicz, an assistant scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Ximena Londono, a research associate at the Instituto Vallecaucano de Investigaciones Cientificas, Cali, Colombia; and Margaret Stern, a research assistant at the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, N.Y.

In order to describe different bamboos and how groups of bamboos are related to each other, Clark dissects the plants and examines them under a microscope. She also examines molecular data, such as bamboo DNA, and develops bamboo "family trees."

What separates bamboo from other plants is a special type of cell in the internal structure of the leaf. Clark said this cell likely is an adaptation to utilize photosynthesis in the shaded forest habitat of bamboos.

Most bamboo species in the Western Hemisphere are native to Central and South America. However, one type of bamboo is native to the southeastern United States, Arundinaria gigantea. There are two surviving varieties of this bamboo, a larger one commonly known as giant cane and a smaller one known as switch cane.

One American bamboo, Guadua, has been used in the construction of buildings as structural supports. In fact, buildings using bamboo in Colombia withstood the Jan. 25 earthquake, centered in Valle del Cauca, better than those made only of concrete because of bamboo's flexibility. Also, since it is lighter, the structures that did collapse posed less threat of injury to the people inside.

Clark's work primarily focuses on Chusquea, an extremely diverse genus of bamboo common in the mountains from Mexico down to Chile. Chusquea includes about 200 species and constitutes about 40 percent of American bamboos.

Clark has done extensive bamboo field work in Latin America, concentrating on Colombia and Brazil. As a result of her work, Clark has named about 60 new species of bamboo. She knows of 70 more species that are not yet named and described.

"We know they're there," Clark said. "We've got material on them. I just haven't had time to sit down and give them names."

"American Bamboos" is published by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


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