Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth. A typical bamboo grows as much as 10 centimeters in one single day. Certain species grow up to a meter per day, or about 1 millimeter every 2 minutes. You can actually see the plant grow right in front of your eyes. In just 5 to 8 years, most varieties of bamboo reach maturity. Compare this to other popular plants that only grow an inch per week. Trees such as oak reach maturity in 120 years. But when it comes to flowering, bamboo is probably one of the slowest plants in the world.
Bamboo flowering is an intriguing phenomenon because it is a unique and very rare phenomenon in the plant kingdom. Most bamboo stems bloom once every 60 to 130 years. The long flowering intervals remain a mystery to most botanists.
These slow-flowering varieties show another strange behavior — stems from a single shoot bloom simultaneously all over the world, regardless of geographic location and climate. Most bamboo is ‘subdivision’ from a single parent shoot. These divisions have been re-divided over time and spread throughout the world. And although they are now geographically in different locations, they still have the same organization of genetic material. Thus, when bamboo blooms in North America, the same stem in Asia will bloom at about the same time. It looks like plants have an internal clock where the alarm goes off at the same time. This mass flowering phenomenon is called communicated flowering.
According to one hypothesis, mass flowering increases the survival rate of the bamboo population. As soon as the bamboo variety has reached its maximum lifespan, bloomed and produced seeds, the plant dies, and entire forests are erased from the face of the Earth. One theory is that it takes a huge amount of energy to produce a seed, exhausting the bamboo to the point where it actually dies. Another theory suggests that the mother bamboo dies to make room for the bamboo seedlings.
The mass flowering of bamboo attracts predators, mainly rodents. The sudden availability of fruit in vast quantities draws tens of millions of hungry rats into the forest, which feed, grow, and multiply at alarming rates. After they eat the bamboo fruits, the rats start consuming the crops in the neighboring areas. The flowering of bamboo is almost always accompanied by famine and disease in neighboring villages. In northeast India’s state of Mizoram, a dire event occurs regularly every 48 to 50 years when the bamboo species of Melocanna baccifera begin to bloom. Such a phenomenon last occurred in 2006–2008, in the local language it was called mautam, or “bamboo death”.