Bamboo Species of the Americas
South America is the richest region of the Americas in terms of the diversity and number of woody bamboo species. They are distributed from the humid lowland forest at sea level to the highlands in the Andes up to 4,300m in the natural formation known as "paramo".
The 20 genera and 429 species of woody bamboos are found from approximately 27° North (Otate acuminata in the north-western part of Mexico) to 47° South (Chusquea culeou in Chile).
Of the total 1,100 species and 65 genera of woody bamboos known in the world, the Americas have 31% of the genera and 39% of the species. Brazil has the greatest bamboo diversity with 137 species, followed by Colombia (70), Venezuela (60), Ecuador (42) Costa Rica (39), Mexico (37) and Peru (37).
It has been calculated from satellite photos, that the bamboo-dominated areas in the Amazonian region, are close to 180,000 km2, equivalent to 18 million hectares. However, it is mixed with other Amazonian forest species. Keeping in mind that the presence of bamboo in South-western Amazon is not homogeneous or continuous, and that approximately 11% of every square kilometer of Andean forest is covered by bamboo, it may be estimated that bamboo covers close to 11 million hectares in South America.
Central and South America possesses approximately 47% of the world’s tropical forests and 70% of the world’s animal and plant species. Unfortunately, the montane forest of the Andean region, where more of the woody bamboo species are found, is decreasing at a high rate due to de-forestation and natural disturbances. Legal protection, sustainable development and reforestation is needed to protect native bamboo species.
The most useful bamboo species of the Americas are found in the genus Guadua and in the Asiatic genus Bambusa, although the genera of Apoclada, Aulonemia, Chusquea, Elytrostachys, Otatea and Rhipidocladum also have species that are used in various ways. The cultivation of bamboos on a commercial scale in Central and South America is limited to a few native and introduced species: Guadua angustifolia, Guadua amplexifolia, Bambusa vulgaris, Bambusa tuldoides and Phyllostachys aurea.