Back from the dead?
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?
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.
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.
…but none of these sources provide information on flowering frequency.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell