[enviro-vlc] Bamboo: Conservatory puts miracle plant to work
vern at coombs.anu.edu.au
Tue May 20 07:28:05 EST 2008
Conservatory puts miracle plant to work
Images (not shown)
Frolicking: With its many outdoor activities, the bamboo ecomuseum is an ideal
destination for weekend visitors, especially families with small children.
Bamboozled: Common bamboo products in the Mekong Delta include bridges and
Tree of life: Bamboo can be used to detoxify contaminated soil, making it
potentially useful for sustainable development, Dr Diep Thi My Hanh says. — VNS
Photos Thu Huong
A scientist in southern Binh Duong Province is out to prove that bamboo’s many
gifts, from wood products to soil improvement, make it worth protecting and
studying. Vu Thu Huong visits her ecomuseum.
During the war, Phu An Village in Binh Duong Province was part of the ‘Iron
The other two sides were Cu Chi District and Tay Ninh Province’s Trang Bang,
while the triangle referred to an arrowhead pointing implacably towards Sai Gon,
as HCM City was known.
But with the opening of the Phu An Bamboo Eco-museum and Botanic Garden
recently, this land, which once saw death and destruction rain down upon it, is
set to turn into a ‘green arrow’.
"Bamboo is my brother," says a Vietnamese proverb carved on a stone plaque at
the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London.
It not only underscores bamboo’s importance in the life of the Vietnamese, but
was also the incentive for Dr Diep Thi My Hanh, the celebrated researcher from
HCM City’s University of Natural Sciences, to set up a bamboo "ecomuseum" in her
It took the biologist almost nine years to turn her idea of collecting and
preserving all species of the grass into a touch-and-feel museum and garden.
"Bamboo has played a meaningful role in the historical development of Viet Nam
and continues to be of commercial, environmental and aesthetic importance to all
Vietnamese," she says.
"Bamboo contributes valuable wood products and food and helps beautify the
But she explains the raison d’etre for the garden and museum: "Bamboo can also
be used as a metal-accumulating plant for environmental clean-up based on
phytoremediation, an emerging technology."
But no research centre or institute in the country has ever bothered with this
valuable grass, she says, adding that she had to go hunting at major biological
research institutions around the world for materials.
Fortunately, she found more than abundant materials.
Hanh then began a three-year quest for bamboo plants in 43 provinces before
kicking off work on the removal of toxic metals from the environment using bamboo.
She says European experts have been using bamboo for waste-water treatment.
Growing bamboo absorbs heavy metal present in soil in an area, and is ideal for
areas polluted by industrialisation like Binh Duong.
"The idea is good, but you need money to breathe life into it. At first, only
Helvetas Switzerland, the Swiss Association for International Co-operation,
helped us with US$3,000.
"It was only enough to build a small building and a garden. Later, France’s
Rhone Alpes Region, Binh Duong Province, the Pilat Natural Park and HCM City’s
University of Natural Sciences offered us around $687,000."
Thanks to their largesse, a 10ha area in Phu An Village is thickly covered with
bamboo and the ecomuseum and botanic garden have been set up. There are 204
specimens growing well while a herbarium has a further 301 samples of extremely
rare species like square bamboo.
"All data collected by the conservation centre will help conserve bamboo in the
long-term," says Nguyen Ha Phuong, one of Hanh’s young students working at the
Julie Logel, a French volunteer at the botanic garden, says: "Supply of seeds to
other areas is critical for the sustainable development of the conservation centre.
"We have carried out studies on acrisol soil, which is clay-rich. It’s
associated with humid, tropical climates and supports forested areas."
Team effort: Many ecology researchers and students, both Vietnamese and foreign,
work at the bamboo ecomuseum, which they hope will become an international
bamboo preservation centre.
Green and clean
In addition to persuading local farmers to use their research results, Hanh and
her colleagues have also joined hands with local residents and authorities to
turn the green village into a tourism destination.
The bamboo collection is sub-divided into smaller sections featuring specimens
from the country’s three distinct regions.
Shadowy lines of bamboo and green-grass-covered hills scattered with tiny yellow
flowers and aged limestone make for a serene picture, evoking thoughts of a
wonderland. For those wishing to meditate, a stone yard under the shade of the
bamboo trees is just perfect. At the ecomuseum, visitors can learn about the
bamboo’s life and uses or play music on traditional instruments made of bamboo.
Joe Yus Kartis, a US visitor at the village, said: "Thank you for giving us the
opportunity to know this oasis of peace and serenity. You are doing an
incredible job, given the difficulties you must be encountering."
Nguyen Van Tung, a man from neighbouring Cu Chi District, said, "Touring Phu An
Village, there are three things I can feel – a deep love for nature, the
sophisticated and wise vision of a dedicated scientist and a heartfelt devotion
to the motherland.
"I hope there are more scientists like Dr Hanh in the country."
A friendly spot
For tourists coming out of the ecotourism area, Phu An Village offers more
options. Friendly inhabitants are everywhere. Muoi Them’s extraordinary garden
has grapefruit and banana trees and orchids. Listening to Them’s stories, it is
hard not to be drawn into his passion for mai flowers.
Behind is garden is a wharf where visitors can take a boat ride on the Sai Gon
River. Bakers go around the village selling banh trang (a kind of traditional
rice paper). Visitors can not only taste its unique flavour bit also learn the
secret of making the delicious cake.
The beautiful green landscape is filled with rubber and cashew trees. However,
ugly relics like a wrecked US tank too still lie scattered around.
Hanh holds a weekly French class for local kids. They double up as little
tourist guides, who are filled with a deep love for nature and, she hopes, will
promote responsible tourism with respect for nature and the local culture.
Hanh says: "Our main goal is to educate visitors to protect the environment and
contribute to local development and well-being."
Ton Nu Thi Ninh, chairwoman of the Viet Nam Women’s Association, praises Hanh’s
tireless efforts in founding the conservatory.
"I hope Phu An Village will grow and become as strong as bamboo, attracting more
and more attention," she says.
Hanh says: "[We] are looking forward to welcoming scientists and nature-lovers
from all over the world.
"We will extend our research to Indo-Chinese bamboo first and then to bamboo
from all over the world."
Details of Phu An Bamboo Village can be found at the website
www.ecomusee.phuan.org. — VNS
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