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Bamboo, cane, wild banana, fibre, floss and brooms


Bamboo
Cane
Wild banana
Fibre, floss and brooms


by Dorji Rinchen
Divisional Forest Officer, Samdrup Jongkha
The Royal Government of Bhutan

Bamboo

Bamboo grows naturally in Bhutan because of the country's largely undisturbed forests and the limited agriculture practiced in areas where bamboo proliferates (Table 1). The Kingdom probably has the greatest variety of bamboo species of all the Himalayan countries. Bhutan's great range of altitudes and climates account for this diversity. Bhutanese bamboo is principally of Himalayan and Chinese-Japanese origins, with some Southeast Asian and South Indian contributions. Bhutan has 15 genera and 31 species of bamboo. Possibly as many as 50 more species exist, but have yet to be identified.

Table 1 Information on Bamboo in Bhutan

Botanical name

Local name

Distribution

Parts used

Arundinaria spp.

Maling bans

Chimithangka and Thimphu
Selephu/Paro
Diafam/Samdrup Jongkha
Bhangtar/Samdrup Jongkha
Nganglam/Samdrup Jongkha
Deothang/Samdrup Jongkha
Pemagatshel

Stems
Leaves

Arundinaria maling

Hima

Begana/Thimphu
Helela/Thimphu
Lamperi/Thimphu

Stems

Bambusa spp.

Bhalu bans

Sarpang
Samdrup Jongkha
Samtse

Stems

Dendrocalamus spp.

Mal bans/Choya bans

Sarpang Zhemgang Samdrup Jongkha Pemagatshel

Stems

Dendrocalamus stricta

Bejuli bans

Sarpang

Stems

Distribution

Knowledge of the distribution of Bhutan's bamboo species is limited. Major species found in sub-tropical areas include Bambusa nutans, Dendrocalamus hamiltonii, D. sikkimensis, D. patelleries, D. strictus Drepanostachyum hookerianum, and D. intermedium Higher elevation species include Arundinaria racemosa, A. maling and A. polystachya. Other species are Dendrocalamus hookeri and Arundinaria griffithii (Griernd dwarf rhododendron trees).

Current and Potential Uses

Bamboo has long been used by the Bhutanese people. A few of its major uses, identified with the genera most commonly used for each product, are listed below:

Bambusa species

· split and woven mats
· used whole for construction and scaffolding

Dendrocalamus species

· roofs and walls of houses
· domestic and agricultural implements, such as water containers, baskets, trays, mats, etc.
· leaves provide valuable fodder for livestock
· shoots are edible and can be preserved

Drepanostachyum species

· finely woven domestic and agricultural equipment, such as baskets, trays, mats, sieves, etc.
· livestock shelters and temporary dwellings
· parts of traditional houses
· edible shoots

Thamnocalamus species

· roofing, mats and fencing

Arundinaria species

· high-quality woven handicraft products, such as food and drink containers, hats, arrows, quivers, etc.

· winter and dry season livestock fodder

· durable mats for building construction fencing material

· edible shoots

· shelter and food for endemic fauna in reserve areas

Bhutan's overall development policy is to make limited use of many natural resources, concentrating on the renewable ones. This policy recognises the importance of rural activities, such as agriculture, forestry, and handicrafts production, in the country's long-term development strategy. Bamboo is involved in all of these. The demand for bamboo is, therefore, bound to increase over time, particularly for use as fodder and other multipurpose uses. There is ample scope for greater bamboo production, especially in the country's higher areas where communities are widely dispersed and agriculture is less profitable.

The manufacture of handicrafts using locally-available materials, such as bamboo, and employing simple techniques and equipment is now emphasised in Bhutan. The country is fortunate in having highly-skilled craftsmen, a strong cultural heritage, and a good supply of renewable resources. There is a need, however, for improving the design of handicrafts and hence their market appeal. This could raise the income of the rural people while allowing them to maintain their culture and way of life.

Increasing the use of bamboo resources in the making of Bhutanese handicrafts has the advantage of building upon existing traditions without threatening the country's cultural heritage or way of life. The people of Zhemgang, for example, are permitted to collect bamboo free of taxes for making "bangchungs" and "palangs" (traditional containers) etc., for their own use or as gifts. Only unwise human interference has retarded bamboo proliferation in Bhutan.

Using simple methods, bamboo harvested from forests is often transported long distances.

Cane

Cane is the stem of the climbing palm of the genus Calamus and other related genera. Bhutanese cane belongs to the Palmae family and is commonly found in the country's tropical and subtropical areas. Palmae is represented by 170 genera and more than 2,500 species worldwide. There are 13 genera of Palmae found in Bhutan.

Distribution

As with bamboo, knowledge of the distribution of Bhutan's cane is limited. Species so far reported in tropical areas are Calamus acanthospathatus and Calamus tenuis, found in Zhemgang, Trongsa, Punakha, Chukha, Haa, Mongar, Trashigang, Samdrup Jongkha, Pemagatshel, Samtse and Sarpang Districts.

Calamus acanthospathatus is locally known as "de" (Sharchop-kha) and "phogrebeth" (Nepal). Calamus tenuis is known as "menj" (Sharchop-kha). A third cane species, locally-known as "phasi", has been reported but its presence is not yet confirmed.

Current Uses and Potential

Calamus acanthospathatus is a common climber, which grows extensively in Bhutan. It yields strong cane and is used as a substitute for rope and as cable for suspension bridges. It is also used for wickerwork, baskets, and containers. Thicker cane is used for making furniture frames, walking sticks and umbrella handles. The shoots of this plant are edible.

Calamus tenuis is used for making household items, such as mats, screens, furniture and chair seats.

The long distances from where cane grows to roads and the limited availability of this resource, restrict the potential for expansion of its use and exploitation.

Wild banana

Distribution

Wild banana (Musa spp.) grows in Bhutan's sub-tropical and temperate regions at up to 1,800 metres (Table 2). There are three varieties. Although it has never been successfully managed, wild banana grows prolifically on "tseri" (shifting cultivation) land abandoned after cultivation, openings in forests, and on most terraces. Regeneration is quick and growth is profuse in these particular areas.

Current Uses and Potential

Banana leaves are used in house construction, roofing, and for making temporary sheds. The leaves and stems are also used as fodder for elephants and other animals. The flowers and fruits are, of course, edible. The fibres from banana leaves make good paper, but they are not commonly used for this purpose in Bhutan.

The inner soft core of the banana stem is edible. The Bhutanese use the water extracted from this stem to cure stomach ailments and as an antidote to Aconitum poisoning. This type of poisoning, from the Aconitum spp., is rare, but can happen during the preparation of medicine. The leaves and stems are also used for preserving fish, meat, butter, "pani" (beetle leaves), and other foodstuffs. Banana stems are also used as conduits and to make rafts.

The country's growing production and demand for paper will undoubtedly increase the demand for this renewable banana resource, thus increasing rural Bhutanese income. The traditional uses of banana leaves and stems - part of the country's cultural heritage - will, however, continue.

Table 2 Information on Wild Banana in Bhutan

Botanical name

Local name

Distribution

Parts used

Musa spp.

Bakpa
Lampa
Kera (N)

Zhemgang
Diafam
Bhangtar
Nganglam
Deothang
Pemagatshel
Norbugang
Decheling
Sarpang
Noonpani (Sarpang)
Leopard (Sarpang)
Gaytsha (Sarpang)

Leaves, stems

Note: (N) = Nepali

Fibre, floss and brooms

Fibre

Bhutan's main sources of fibre are from various stems and leaves, though fibre may also be extracted from roots, fruits and seeds. Bhutanese fibre species include odal (Sterculia villosa) for making rope, Girardiana spp. for producing ropes and gunny bags, Musa spp. for paper making, and Areca catechu. Table 3 gives information on fibre in Bhutan. Other fibre-producing species are Cannabis sp. (bark), Urtica sp. ("jazu" in Sharchop-kha), Girardiana palmata ("zangjazu" in Sharchop-kha), Boehmeria sp. ("pu yangzewa" in Sharchop-kha), Agave sp., Daphne sp., Edgeworthia sp., Kydia calycina and Grewia sp.

Floss

Floss is obtained from tree pods, and collected from kapas (Gossypium spp.) and semul (Bombax ceiba). The capsules of these trees yield floss which is soft, yet strong. Gossypium and Bombax ceiba grow in the sub-tropical areas of southern Bhutan (Table 4). Rural Bhutanese collect floss to make pillows and mattresses. Another floss species reported is Ceiba pentandra.

Table 3 Information on Fibre in Bhutan

Botanical name

Local name

Distribution

Sterculia villosa

Odal (N)
Phrangshing (Sh)

Sarpang
Samdrup Jongkha
Diafam
Bhangtar
Nganglam
Manas
Zhemgang

Girardiana spp.

Sishnu (N)

Sarpang
Samdrup Jongkha
Bhangtar
Diafam
Nganglam

Note:

(N) = Nepali
(Sh) = Sharchop-kha

Table 4 Information on Floss in Bhutan

Botanical name

Local name

Distribution

Bombax ceiba

Pem-gesar

Scattered throughout:

Sarpang
Diafam
Bhangtar
Samdrup
Jongkha
Nganglam
Zhemgang

Gossypium

Kapas

Scattered throughout:

Sarpang
Diafam
Bangtar
Ngaylam
Manas

Brooms

The most common species used to make brooms is Thysanolaena maxima, known locally as "kucho," "amkso," or "tsakusha." This species is found in Bhutan's sub-tropical areas (Table 5). Other materials used for brooms are lemon grass, pal ("cari" or "sysam" in Sharchop-kha), Phoebe, Sida, bamboo leaves and split bamboo culms, and coconut leaves.

Table 5 Information on Brooms in Bhutan

Botanical Name

Local name

Distribution

Thysanolaena maxima

Kucho (N)
Tshakusha (Dz)

Scattered throughout:

Sarpang
Nganglam
Norbugang
Kulikatla
Diafam
Bhangtar
Samdrup Jongkha
Manas
Zhemgang

Note:

(N) = Nepali
(Dz) = Dzongkha

Bhutan's hills and forests house a wide variety of medicinal plants - so many, in fact, that the total is not yet known.


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