Synthetic Bamboo or Imitation Bamboo is a replica of real Bamboo, although there are other major differences. That is what we will explore here.
Both are really versatile. Live Bamboo can be used as scaffolding, food, mats, walls, and fences and has hundreds of other applications. Imitation Bamboo can almost duplicate this - except for food, of course.
Both types are measured by outside diameter. To determine what size you need, here's how to work it out. The diameter will be the measurement across the inside from one end to the other, across the middle, in a straight line. That is the diameter.
Now the differences. . .
Imitation Bamboo never rots because it is not alive. Rotting live Bamboo smells bad, too.
The imitation cannot grow mold because mold doesn't stick to plastics and it is made from PVC, which is a plastic.
Live Bamboo is seldom dead straight, although many stalks are very close to it. “Imitation" comes into play here. To imitate something you must follow closely all the flaws as well as the perfections. Luckily manufacturers do keep their pipes reasonably straight.
With live Bamboo the ends are often flared, cracked and sometimes flayed. Also, they peel, especially at the ends. With Imitation Bamboo this doesn't happen, ever.
Long Bamboo stalks are very hard to find, as are very thick pieces. With Imitation Bamboo this is simply not the case. It can be manufactured in any diameter from ¼" to 12" and thicker if you really want it. Their lengths can range from generally 8’ or 10', up to and including 20’. Also they have another, fantastic, attribute. They can be joined together to make even longer lengths. You cannot do that with live Bamboo.
Living Bamboo cannot keep its color. A few months in the sun and it tends to start turning gray. Imitation Bamboo will take years before the sun wears away the coloring, turning it white.
The Bamboo plant has an internal oily chemical reaction that pushes away paint and varnish, causing it to flake and peel away. Colored PVC that imitates bamboo, painted to suit you, will not need to be re-varnished or re-painted as often.
In wet, humid, and damp areas the live plant, once removed from the soil, simply cannot survive. It will get mold and the treatment is still in its infancy. This same wetness on plastic, or PVC, will simply have no effect at all.
The downside? The only real problem I can see is that Imitation Bamboo is prone to scratches and wear. Scratches take away the coloring, leaving behind a white mark. Sometimes this doesn't matter because the area is small and easily hidden. Other times, it's better to cut off the offending section and replace it.
Bamboo wears rather well. Some tend to think the plant wears better than the PVC. If you continually rub an area on the painted PVC then, yes, it will wear away the coloring and you'll be left with white patches. Depending on what is causing the excessive wear, live Bamboo might wear away causing peeling layers, plus it might crack and break and will do so much easier than Imitation Bamboo.
As far as I know both Imitation Bamboo and live Bamboo are neither rigid nor pliable. They both bend to a small degree over a lengthy piece but neither can exactly be called pliable. The only real complication here is that live Bamboo needs to be wet, green, or very young to be able to bend, and as it ages its ability to bend will diminish, whereas Imitation Bamboo simply needs to be itself. Of course, the thicker it is, the less pliable it is.
Neither Imitation Bamboo nor live Bamboo is strong enough to bear any load, like holding up a roof. With the hollow PVC pipe, however, you can install another load-bearing pole made of steel, or wood, and slip this inside. Hollow live Bamboo has nodes that touch in the middle, preventing the aforementioned load-bearing pole's access.
I hope this helps you determine the differences. The use of either the imitation or live plant can be mostly interchangeable. Now choose whichever suits your purpose.
PS: Imitation Bamboo is called Bamfaux.
JoeJude Enterprises calls Interlachen, Florida, USA, home. Our web page is http://joejude.ws and the actual page about Imitation Bamboo is http://joejude.ws/bamfaux.htm Bamfaux (Imitation or Synthetic Bamboo) can be used in both Commercial and Residential applications.