Bamboo Nation

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Bamboo's pedigree is quite impressive: Bamboo was the needle in Alexander Graham Bell's first phonograph as well as the filament in the world's first light bulbs. It emits more oxygen than any other plant in the world; some species are stronger than steel, yet bend gracefully in the wind.

It's no wonder that this hardy plant (most species grow back within a year of harvesting) has been used for thousands of years in Asia for housing, furniture, and food. And it's finally getting respect in the United States. "The interest is really growing," says Bonnie Trust Dahan, a cofounder of VivaTerra, a company that sells bamboo salad bowls, ladders, wastebaskets, and cutting boards. "People like the way it looks, and they like the feeling of helping the environment." (A Web search will point you toward other companies selling bamboo flooring and furniture.)

Inspired by bamboo's elegance and potential to ease pressure on the world's dwindling forests, some have gone bamboo crazy. Take Blair LeMire, known as Bamboo Brother, whose home features flooring, a bed, tables, and chairs made of bamboo. (He's writing a book called Bamboo Power.) "It's an amazing plant," he says. "It can rejuvenate us and the earth."