Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Beautiful Bamboos


 Bamboos are a beautiful addition to any tropical garden.  Not only are they common on the Islands, but also in Southern California and can grow as far north as New York on the East Coast and Seattle on the West.  The bamboos comprise more than 1200 known species, including 6 inch dwarfs and 120 foot giants. The new shoots, or canes, on some species may grow as much as a foot a day. Bamboos can be planted as an ornamental or for economic purposes such as  food and shelter. 

When buying bamboos, there is one important characteristic to consider; all bamboos are not created equal.  They can be divided into two basic groups - the clumping bamboos which are desirable and the running bamboos which aren’t so desirable. The bamboo plant produces underground stems called rhizomes. New canes, also called culms, shoot up from these rhizomes. With clumping bamboos, the rhizomes grow rather slowly.  Thus the outward spread of the original clump is slow, and the plant is more easily contained. 

With running bamboos, the rhizomes spread rapidly, as much as 2-3 feet its first year, increasing from there, to as much as 15 feet in one season. Those who decide to purchase a running bamboo, usually have lots of land.  Barriers can be placed around a running bamboo planting to confine it, but no guarantees.  The barrier will have to be made of some impermeable material like concrete or strong plastic.  It needs to extend down into the ground 24 – 30 inches and completely surround the plant.  If the running bamboo is in a lawn, it is easier to confine since a mower will constantly cut off the unwanted new canes as they emerge.   However, eventually the runners will make their way to the edge of the lawn and begin to emerge – even if it’s in your neighbor’s yard!

The University of Hawaii CTAHR website has an excellent publication entitled, Bamboo for Forest and Garden. It lists over 60 species of bamboos with a brief description of each.