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Bamboo Blossoms,Pandas Starve?

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, a forest of Arrow Bamboo blossomed overnight in Wolong Reserve, Sichuan Province, China. The original green bamboo area was instantly replaced by numerous purple-brown flowers.            

This is not a good thing, as Arrow Bamboo is one of the pandas’ favorite foods. Pandas, which are fussy eaters, do not eat bamboo that has blossomed. What’s worse is, after the bamboo blossoms and fruits, a lot of them begin to wither and die.

Almost at the same time, 138 corpses of wild pandas were found in Wenxian County of Gansu Province, Pingwu County of Sichuan Province and Nanping County. And it’s a depressing event.

For a while, the saying “bamboo blossoms and pandas starve” spread everywhere, arousing the attention of all sectors of society. People all over the country, even from around the world have donated money to help pandas. With much effort, they turned the situation around and pandas are no longer on the verge of extinction.

Afterwards, people became more convinced that the blossoming of bamboo is an ominous sign, and they firmly believed that it has caused the death of pandas. At the same time, there have been experts who attempt to explain that the blossoming of bamboo is not the real cause of the death of pandas. There’re even some researchers who believe that such blossoming is beneficial to the development of the population of pandas.            

So, what’s all this about? We need to look for the answer from the unique phenomenon of the blossoming of bamboo.

Through rigorous scientific confirmation, the blossoming of bamboo is proven to be a normal phenomenon. Blossoming and fruiting are considered as an overloaded “physical activity” for plants. The blossoming of plants in nature are generally divided into two categories:            

The first kind blossom every year, and they repeat the same pattern every year. Examples include peony, Osmanthus, etc., the other kind only blossoms once in a lifetime, and after blossoming once, its lifecycle comes to an end.  

If we further subdivide them, plants which only blossom once in a lifetime are classified into vegetative growth and reproductive growth. They spend most of their lives growing their branches and leaves to store nutrients for vegetative growth.

When the right time comes, they will blossom, bear fruit, and die when they run out of nutrients. Apart from most bamboos, we can see the reproductive growth pattern of radish, cabbage and rape which are commonly consumed in our daily life.

What’s special is that bamboo can withstand decades, even hundreds of years without flowering and bearing fruit. Not only does it take a long time, bamboos usually blossom in large scale at one time.  

Whether they’re old or young bamboo, they blossom almost at the same time. What’s the reason for this? This is because the bunch of bamboo that we see is probably from the same branch of bamboo.

The main reproductive mode of bamboo is asexual reproduction. It can be connected by a bamboo whip in the ground. The bamboo shoots grow on the bamboo whip and grow into new bamboos, expanding the scope continuously, thus forming a large bamboo forest.

This further proves what the poem “Growing At The Same Roots” says, so no matter which year the bamboo grows, their actual “age” is the same, they will thus blossom at the same time.

Even if it is not the same bamboo plant, the same species of bamboo in the same area may be the offspring of the large-scale blooming, after the withering of the previous bamboo. In this way, a specific lifecycle is formed in nature, thus forming this miracle.            

Compared with the “same-age bamboo” in nature, artificially planted bamboo often forms “unevenly aged bamboo” because of the uneven variety, age and source. Therefore, there will be no collective blossoming and withering. It could be that bamboos from two different places blossom at the same time, and they just happen to be the same age.  

When bamboo blossoms, the nutrients saved over the years by the bamboo leaves would be used to blossom and seed. It seems to intend to spend all of its life, concentrating all the essence into these little seeds.            

When seeding is done, the nutrients stored in bamboo are also depleted.

So, once bamboo blossoms and dies, will this really starve pandas to death? Professor Pan Wenshi, Department of Biology of Peking University has conducted some investigation and analysis. He has concluded that bamboo blossoming is not the main factor causing threat to the panda population.

From the historical perspective, pandas must have experienced a lot of blossoming of bamboo, and they’ve gained a certain extent of adaptability. For example, when a certain bamboo blossoms in a place, pandas will choose the bamboo that hasn’t blossomed. If it flourishes in large areas, they will migrate to find new sources of food.            

Even though there’s only one kind of bamboo that grows in the panda area, and even if it blossoms and dies in large areas, pandas can still eat large amounts of bamboo to meet their needs for food.

On the contrary, the blossoming of bamboo has certain benefits for the healthy development of pandas. Pandas feed on dozens of kinds of bamboo. When one or several bamboos blossom and die, pandas can look for other kinds of bamboo.            

In this process, the old, weak and disabled pandas may be eliminated. But when the bamboo forest restores its development, the panda population will recover faster, and the population viability will become stronger as well.      

So, we cannot put the blame on the blossoming of bamboo for the death of starved pandas. The real cause was that the panda’s habitat was destroyed artificially by large-scale deforestation in Qinling area at that time.    

Then, when a reserve for wild pandas was established, and when logging was stopped, their habitats could be protected.       

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