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Back from the dead?

September 10, 2013

In previous blogs I have marveled at the ability of many plants to resurrect. As to bamboos it is a widespread truth that when a bamboo flowers it will afterwards die. Fortunately for home gardeners, but unfortunately for biologists, many bamboos rarely bloom. Reportedly bamboo blossom is also quite exact within a clone, all specimens flowering at the same time.

 

At Dokmai Garden we have a native yellow bamboo Schizostachyum brachycladum (Poaceae) or ‘pai lueang’ in Central Thai. When it flowered I was of course intrigued, but would we lose it?

 Jussi bamboo blossom.72

The flowers of this bamboo are neatly arranged in dense flowering heads. Photo: Jussi Suominen.

Surprisingly, our two specimens which grew almost next to each other, did not flower the same year. The first specimen bloomed in February 2011. After its apparent death I dug up the root system because the dead stumps of the culms looked ugly. The second specimen flowered the following year in 2012. This time I waited a long time to observe the development of the flowering culms. They eventually looked dead or so untidy I cut them down, but somehow I never got around to dig up the root system.

Schizostachyum brachycladum after blossom.72

When I returned from Sweden in late August 2013 the root system had sprouted again! The new shoots did not come from the dead culm stumps, but from the roots. They were not a result of seeds because in that case there would be seedlings everywhere.

 

As it turns out, this bamboo species does not follow the general saying. That might be true for other bamboos such as the famous giants within the Dendrocalamus genus. The ‘pai lueang’ frequently flowers, sometimes annually, but old flowering culms look terribly untidy and to reset it a cosmetic pruning might be necessary.

 

The advice to the tropical home gardener on how to handle flowering bamboo is first to collect the bamboo seeds which are a treasure. Sow these as soon as possible since they deteriorate quickly. Immediately after seed harvest cut down the untidy culms and wait patiently for the next rainy season. To compensate for the nutrient losses during the reproductive phase provide a generous donation of cow manure.

 

You can read more about this bamboo species in the ASEAN plant database:

 

…and Kew Garden’s GrassBase

 

…but none of these sources provide information on flowering frequency.

 

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2013 2:57 AM

    Fascinating and very educational! thank you for this post. I’m bookmarking it for sure!

  2. David Cooke permalink
    September 10, 2013 4:46 AM

    I have cut back the flowering shhots of bamboos (mostly Fargesia) occasionally and subsequently the bamboo appeared to have recovered. They all died three years or so later. Most people seem to have difficulties with bamboo seedlings, they often die off.

  3. Aree permalink
    September 10, 2013 8:23 AM

    I have big bamboos called SAANG (ไม้ซาง), never saw flowers. How long or how old will they have flowers?

    • September 10, 2013 8:38 AM

      Dear Aree,

      Vernacular names are rarely exact so it is a bit tricky to imagine which species you have. Dendrocalamus sericeus is sometimes called ‘sang’ or ‘sang mon’, but there are others. The species of this genus tend to bloom with great intervals.

      Cheers, Eric

  4. David Cooke permalink
    September 10, 2013 8:42 AM

    Fargesia: finished blooming world wide now, last time was 120 years ago. We’ll tell you when your bamboo will bloom when we see flowers on it! Some bamboos can be provoked into blooming when subjected to stress (lack of water etc). When customers came to complain about their Fargesias blooming, all I could do was shrug and tell them that they were very lucky to witness such a rare event

  5. Aborn Smith IV permalink
    September 11, 2013 8:40 AM

    Im so happy you’re back! I hope to visit your garden someday.
    -Miami, Florida

  6. September 11, 2013 9:32 AM

    Thanks everyone for encouraging comments! It would be fun to meet with avid tropical gardeners when we return from Sweden next time. Over the years we have had many generous invitations worldwide so we are equally excited in seeing other gardens too.

    Cheers, Eric

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