Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Another Kind of Bamboo

My sister and I can attest to the pesky bamboo that grows up here in Maine. It's invasive and not very attractive having only a short flowering season. I think what I don't like about it the most is the mess it leaves behind and especially in the early spring. Bamboo dies back to the soil and the new growth pushes it's way through the tangled web it left from the winter before.

All of my photos were taken on October 25, the above picture depicts the variety I'm talking about. While I was researching bamboo I found some of the rhizomes can spread five feet in one season! Goodness!

Imagine my surprise when my mother-in-law mentioned to me that sometime in our travels she would like to get some pencil bamboo. Pencil bamboo?

Well, I'll be...I thought the tall, pretty, grass like perennial, with a maroon colored feather flower, was an ornamental grass, nope, bamboo. Not just any bamboo, a "clumping" bamboo, the non-invasive kind that doesn't need a solid barrier wall to contain it. In fact, this kind spreads slowly, and unlike the first kind which is brittle, the pencil bamboo seems to be very sturdy. My research indicates that early Asian residents used this kind of bamboo to make letter openers, Abacuses, and fishing poles. It is particularly beautiful when vine wrapped and I suspect this is the choice for the green garden stakes we are all familiar with.

I eventually led myself the the American Bamboo Society where it was really difficult to determine the exact name of this bamboo, but I feel fairly sure it is from the Fargesia family. A lot of bamboo are edible in the early stages of growth, and while I can't be certain this is one you can eat, it's REALLY beautiful. It sprouts a dark green and tops out with a delicate bloom that reminds me of a ostrich feather with the flumes facing one side of the stalk. It's very impressive in a gentle breeze, it's high enough to appear top heavy and all of it will sway the same way. NBS indicates all bamboo is ornamental grass. Huh? I was surprised. It also states seeding starts at 15 years, and/or up to 60 years and everything in between, after that the specimen dies.

One professional landscaper and author, who lives in New England and uses bamboo in his business, wrote about an elegant feeling attributed the Chinese poets. Poets who stand in groves of bamboo live intimately with it. They compare it to near-human qualities while meditating to wind rustling the foliage.

"In snowfall, there is the gentlest of tinkling as ten thousand tiny ice crystals bounce down from leaf to leaf." In the Garden.

(Don't forget to vote today if you haven't already, may the best man win.)


  1. That Pencil Bamboo is very pretty and does remind one of a grass. I had known about that invasive kind. It can just be awful. I like the look of bamboo but it would have to be the clumping non-invasive kind. And it would be nice to have your own stake factory right in the garden :)

  2. A lovely bamboo! It still 'scares' me to plant any bamboo...even if called clumping! That means I miss out on some beauties! I wonder how you harvest and prepare bamboo to eat?


  3. Nice post Dawn. Some Bamboo is pretty, but I don't want it in my garden. Most of what I've seen here in my area harbors those old roaches, like the ones that live in the bark of pine trees,also palmetto. Sure don't want them--they can fly.

  4. So interesting Dawn. I never knew there were types of bamboo--I just knew about the kind the Arboretum has that is like a jungle! Thanks for the great information!

  5. Great info!

    We have three of the clumping bamboo Fargesia that is supposed to be the food of Giant Pandas...that convinced me! Ours is fountain shaped and the birds absolutely love to sit on the springy branches. Evergreen here.


  6. I had never heard of pencil bamboo. There is a grass or reed that grows in this area with a similar plume. I'm trying to find some to plant for bird habitat.

  7. Hi guys,
    Cindy, the invasive kind is awful, just awful. I would love my own supply of stakes! That would be so nice.
    Gail, I read only springtime shoots are the edible ones, they sprout from the culms (the segements of the bamboo), I'm thinking stirfry.
    Lola, yuck! We don't have too many roaches up here, although the shunks like the withered bamboo!
    Meadowview thymes, your welcome! The first kind I pictured is like a jungle.
    Defining your home, You are so lucky, the Fargesia's are so pretty and come in different colors.
    Roses and lilacs, I never knew about this bamboo, I thought it was grass and asked Tina about it last year. I was shocked to live here all my life and discover it now. The ABS recommends, when transplanting, there is better luck of survival if the bamboo has 4 culms.
    Off to vote.

  8. Dawn, I don't have any bamboo here, and having read about its invasive nature, I didn't intend to. But this pencil bamboo looks very attractive, especially if it is polite and stays within its boundaries. I'd love to see it in your mother's garden, if she plants some.

  9. It does look like an ornamental grass with those plumes. I've always been a little leery of bamboo for the invasive reputation it has in the landscape. This looks like a good one though.

  10. I am thankful I do not have any invasive bamboo on my land as it is terrible. Very had to pull out as you and your sister and I sure do know from a house we lived in when you were teenagers. Remember the day our neighbor (Rod) got a flat tire from pulling it with his truck. However, it is very pretty when it blooms and in the fall. I do enjoy it on the sides of the road at those times.

    I do love those plumes and would not mind having some and wow, I did'nt know it was bamboo. Don't think Nana knew that either as she loved them but did'nt call it bamboo. Very interesting.

    How come you are posting today?

    I voted last week.

  11. Hi, Dawn--The pencil bamboo is lovely, but Salix is like Gail--any mention of bamboo makes him nervous--there are colonies of it all around us. He doesn't even like the lucky bamboo I have in a pot in the bathroom! Great post.

  12. I want to plant the invasive type between us and the neighbors ugly yard! Saint will not let me though. lol...

    Looking at this bamboo you talk about today Dawn, leads me to believe of ornamental grass also! Bamboo sure comes in many types.

    Some people have the type that the Pandas eat in their gardens around here. Zoo Atlanta comes to harvest it for their panda's. People are nice to allow them to harvest it for the cute cuddly looking critters....

    We did the early voting and still stood in line for an hour... Will be soooo glad when it is all over. I had about a dozen phone calls from politicians yesterday and we are on the NO CALL list! arggg...

  13. Good morning everyone! Yes, it is still morning though I am late this morning. It has been nice having this long break and my colleagues have been working hard and doing a great job!

    Dawn, I DO remember that d^%$#( bamboo, that is why I would NEVER EVER plant anything with the name or genus bamboo in my garden unless it was in a pot, set in cement next to the road. I learned the hard way. Can't believe you remember me out there digging that stuff out. I went by the old house when I was home and am happy to say that after 30 years or so it is all gone! Finally.

    I do love this bamboo though, it is gorgeous as are all bamboos, just not in my yard:) And this one is very different looking, but bamboo STILL scares me! Yes indeed.

  14. Hi Dawn, is the top photo Polygonum cuspidatum, I think its sometimes goes by Japanese bamboo. If it is then yes it is a nasty plant that is hard to control.

    I like bamboo especially the fine leafed ones. I have yet to plant a bamboo but would like to add one soon if I can find one that behaves.

  15. Hi Dawn, these are so different from any bamboo I've seen. I can understand the pesky bit--the ground below is a real mess and cleaning up takes time because the stems grow so close to each other.

    The Fargesia variety looks gorgeous!

  16. There has always been somewhat of a negative connotation when someone mentions bamboo. I guess it isn't all bamboos.

  17. Hi guys,
    Rose + perennial gardener, I think this bamboo behaves itself. Now that I know what it is, I've seen it everywhere and it's about the size pictured.
    Mom, I usually post on the 1st saturday of the month but the first fell on this past Saturday and Tina plans her to do list on that day. No, I don't think Nana knew this is bamboo. Otherwise I'm quite sure she would of said something when we struggled with the stuff on the island.
    Cosmos, bamboo brings up all kinds of reactions, either you like it or you don't. Soooo many people have the lucky bamboo and it's pretty if places like wally world do not glue fake flowers to it!
    I'm with you Skeeter, the invasive between me and the small power plant next to us, esp. since the power company cut all our pines down! Could be a good thing!
    Its nice the zoo is allowed to cut peoples bamboo to feed the pandas, I'd have to help too.
    I went a voted this morning and joked about the long line. Teehee, me and hubby.
    Tina, I'd like this on my property next to the woodline maybe.
    Dan, I seem to recall someone calling the first bamboo Japanese, and yes, urrrr what a pain in the ground!
    Thank-you Kanak Hagjer, it is prettier in the spring.
    Brenda, this family also has a gold color kind, I thought that was neat.

  18. I never knew that Bamboo grew up there. And that first picture is such a strange one, I had to enlarge it to look at all the foliage caught in the bamboo.

  19. I have never seen a bamboo like the one in your picture.The tropical bamboos are mostly non-invasive, and so beautiful. I just love the elegant, Asian look. In Asia they use bamboos in large pots a lot, looks really great at an entrance.

  20. I have three Fargesia bamboo plants but they don't make the lovely bamboo poles. They are pretty though. I don't have any Pandas grazing yet. The Polygonatum is difficult to control but you could try mowing it down all season until August and then in August, use an herbicide to kill it. The carbo reserves will be limited due to the constant mowing and death will be imminent.

  21. Well, I learn something new everyday!

    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

  22. This has been interesting to read. I am reminded that bamboo is one of the Chinese "three friends of winter" with pine and plum blossom.
    I have bamboo in pots... I do not want the invasive variety!

  23. Tina ~ Is the first photo the same Japanese bamboo that we're battling down here? It holds a sensitive slope, leading down to the swamp, from erosion, but must constantly be beat back from the gardens.

    Are the last three photos of Phragmites?... an incredibly invasive pest of wet areas, here in MA. There's a huge stand of it, bordering our local pond, choking out all the native plant species. It looks exactly like the plants in your photos, right down to the one-sided plumes.

    Enjoyed your informative bamboo text... would that landscaper be Chris DeRosa of Rockport? I appeared on film with him, years ago... Deb (Hope BJ's feeling well)

  24. Hi Guys,
    Hi Bonnie, yep we have bamboo mostly the kind pictured in the first photo. Could you see the leaves on the ground when you enlarged the pic? I believe the foliage amoung the bamboo is oak, those leaves seem to linger longer.
    Nicole, I like the elegant looking bamboo too. I think this one is pretty and would be potted.
    Great advice Layanne, I thought it might have something to do with repetition, mowing maybe for a few years? Someone told us to burn the roots, never figured that one out!?
    Rosehaven cottage, thanks!
    Philip bewley, I thought that was nice, the poets commenting on the sound it makes with ice falling, I sure do remember that! It was better than looking at its tangled mess.
    Garden author, I think you might have the same as in the first picture, most of it is planted to hold a slope. I'm not sure about the second one though, I got a start for my m-i-l and it's in very hard packed soil, rich loamy soil but hard packed and dry. It's mostly in small clumps (like 6 x 6) and on the high side of the guardrails on our highways.
    The landscaper is Earle Barnhart and his wife, I found him at ABS.

  25. Interesting post. There is a bamboo garden near Savannah but I've never been to it.

  26. well this is very interesting. i hope it works out for you to plant it

  27. Great info! I love to use grasses and bamboo and had never heard of this variety.

    and the quote at the end was delightful.

  28. Phillip, Thanks and welcome to our blog. I tried to see if you have a blog and could not find one. Do you blog? I'd love to add you to my sidebar if so.

    Dot, Bamboo is so neat in the right spots. This one looks really cool. Do let us know how that garden is if you make it to it.

    Marmee, Thanks!

    Anne, Thanks!

  29. Yes, bamboo can be pretty, but also very invasive. I think we need to remember when we plant something in our gardens that it is not a plant that is not kept under control. It is very difficult to remove the invasive kind from your garden and to protect the rhizomes from spreading. I have know people to put concrete barriers and failed. There are some types which are not invasive and can be kept in pots even on the patio. Andrea

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