By Carolyn Weber. Although it has long been used to make furniture, bamboo is also a viable hardwood flooring alternative. Thanks to technological advances of the last decade, a new durable, attractive bamboo flooring product is suitable for exportation to the U.S. market.

Most of the bamboo supply comes from three provinces in China, and, of the more than 1,000 species, only two are fit for flooring. Of those, Mao is the best. "It's very, very hard--not the stuff that pandas eat," says Seymour Ellis, president of Ellis International, the Beachwood, Ohio, company that sells Bamstar bamboo flooring ( to dealers and distributors. "It's harder than any other hardwood, except for pecan and hickory, and more resilient," Seymour adds.

Bamboo is gaining popularity because it wears well, looks good, and is a renewable resource. Green builders will be glad to know that bamboo is the tallest and fastest growing grass in the world, regenerating at a rate of 4 to 5 feet per year. The prices and styles are comparable to mid-range hardwoods like oak. Bamstar planks average $4 to $6 per square foot and come in 1/2-inch and 5/8-inch thicknesses, a width of 3 5/8 inches, and are available in 3-foot and 6-foot lengths.

Bamstar products come in two colors--a natural yellow or carbonized, which is a caramel color created by steaming the bamboo before it's dried. The product is also available with a UV coating or aluminum oxide coating. The UV coating protects the flooring from ultraviolet damage, such as fading and cracking, and resists mildew and insects. An aluminum oxide coating gives added protection from scratches.