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Bamboos

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Introduction

This page is an extension from my page on Exotic Plants in a Cool Climate, rather than being devoted to bamboos in general. Bamboos are not, in my opinion, generally particularly exotic in appearance, although I know many will disagree with me. The majority have quite small, non-glossy leaves, and many of them are not even particularly tall. They have a reputation, which some of them well deserve, for being rampant invaders and very difficult to control once established. A few, however, are different and I believe are worth consideration here. They are generally in need of some protection from wind, especially the phyllostachys group, and they all require ample supplies of food and water.

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Phyllostachys pubescens (aka P. edulis)

This, like the other members of the phyllostachys genus, is a clump forming species with no threat to take over the garden. It can easily grow 15 to 20 feet high, and apparently up to 30 feet in some parts of Cornwall. Unlike many bamboos, the sheaths fall from the stems as they grow, leaving them bare and somewhat shiny. In this species they are deep green, and are the thickest that can be grown in Britain, being up to three inches in diameter.

Phyllostachys aurea

This is similar to the preceding species, but the stems are not quite so thick and start bright green, becoming yellow with age.

Phyllostachys viridi-glaucescens

I believe this is naturally the tallest of the species of bamboo which will grow in Britain, but it achieves only a fraction of its potential height here, about the same as the others listed. The stems are pale green. Andrew Withey tells me he finds this one tends to be a bit invasive.

Phyllostachys nigra

Similar in most respects to the previous two species, the distinctive feature of this one is the stems, which start with black spots when young and steadily turn shining black. Many consider this makes it the most attractive of all bamboos. It is one of the least invasive bamboos.

Phyllostachys propinqua

This one, I was advised by a specialist supplier, is the least invasive of the group, and so far that has not been contradicted by my experience of growing it. It is a very upright species and extremely hardy. It is claimed it will grow up to 30 feet tall with stems 2 inches in diameter, but I will be happy if mine manages half that. It isn't there yet (after five years), but that is probably my own fault for ignoring my own advice in terms of ensuring adequate food and water. The leaves and stems are dark green. It is tougher than most bamboos - I am using it as a windbreak to help protect my banana.

Sasa palmata

This species is much shorter, growing 6-8 feet tall, but has the largest leaves of any bamboo. It is fully hardy, but really looks like a jungle all on its own. The leaves have been compared to palm leaves, being up to 14 inches long and three inches wide. Its one disadvantage, which makes me reluctantly decide it is not for me, is that it is a rampant spreader. When a nursery that sells a plant advises me not to buy it for that reason, I am inclined to listen, but it looks so good I had to fight the temptation. The nursery stocks it because customers insist on having it.

I will be adding one or two more species to this page when I can find a few minutes to gather the information together.

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Links to other bamboo pages

Fastuosa Bamboo Nursery. Jos Kevenaar's site is primarily a commercial nursery site specialising in bamboos (but includes some other exotic species). It is packed with useful information on bamboo species, cultural instructions, etc. Unfortunately (for those of us who do not speak his language) it is mostly in Dutch, but when I looked it was in process of being translated to an English version. This site also includes a page of bamboo links, none of which I have yet looked at - many of them appear to be in English (or American!), with a couple in French.

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