The Chinese, precursors in culture and technology, were the first to appreciate the beauty and usefulness of bamboo. Their ancient dictionary, the Erh Ya, written a thousand years before Christ, referred to bamboo as ts’ao, a grass. My own interest in bamboo arose many years ago when I was moved to attempt to make a fishing rod of split-and-glued bamboo, and became fascinated by the virtues of the material I was using. A long time ago some nameless genius had the idea of splitting a Culm of bamboo into strips, tapering them, then gluing them together to make a strong, slender, and superlatively springy implement that could cast an artificial fly a great distance, even against a stiff breeze. Here, as in so many other things, the Chinese were fax in advance of the West; one book tells of them splitting and gluing bamboo long before the birth of Christ. Though now largely supplanted by glass and carbon fiber, the best split-bamboo fishing rods are made from Tonkin cane, which, despite the name, comes from southern China. It remains the world’s most valuable bamboo species for a variety of purposes. Dr. F. A. McClure, who at the time of his death in 1970 was a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution and the world’s greatest authority on bamboo, traveled to China as a botanical explorer in the 1920s. There he sought the home of Tonkin cane. Years later he described his search to me: “I began by recalling a jingle common round Canton [Guangzhou]: Wait sap muk, Kwong Ning chuk,’ which is to say in Cantonese: ‘For wood go to Wait sap [Huaiji], for bamboo to Kong Ning [Ganging].’ Both are places on the Sui River, which flows toward Canton from the northwest. I started upriver, inquiring as I went. As I neared Wait sap, the bamboos on both sides of the river changed. Unlike the graceful, nodding bamboos farther downstream, these were stiff, erect, and spiky. From a distance the plantations looked like young fir trees.” The farmers called it ch’a kon chuktea stick bamboo. Now, bamboo has a peculiarity. Most of it flowers only at long intervals-30, 60, or even 120 years apart. At about the same time, all plants of the same specieswherever they are in the worldwill burst into flower. Then the drooping branches look like heads of wheat (page 514). When this happens, the culms die, but the groves survive because some rhizomes live on and the fallen seeds take root. For a bamboo seedling to reach full growth and maturity may take five to ten years; meanwhile the growers face economic disaster. The farmer’s misfortune was the scientist’s good luck. McClure found whole areas of tea stick bamboo in bloom, and he was able to collect flowering specimens, which, together with branching nodes and sheaths from young culms, the botanist needs to make scientific identification.