Field of Science

On Bamboo

Bamboo, a name given to a tribe of perennial grasses including the largest of grasses, are marvelous plants. In Asia bamboo is ever present, an eternal reminder, “this is Asia.” Bamboos are gorgeous plants and the subject of much art. Bamboos range in size from giant bamboo whose stems tower 20 or more meters tall to small delicate woodland bamboos. Pandas love bamboo, people love pandas, so has anyone ever planted a bamboo without eventually regretting that decision?


The lure of a hardy bamboo was too much for TPP, so a Sasa or Sasella, hard to tell which, a bamboo of small stature (no more than 30” tall) with some shade tolerance was planted in the Asian portion of our garden. It was lovely. It was hardy. Even when the aerial shoots died over winter, you simply clipped them all off and new shoots appeared with the spring. But then you find the first shoot appearing well out into surrounding lawn, and you discover that this is the tip of a long, hard, steel-cable tough tiller, and you think, uh oh. And even within the confines of its bed, the bamboo begins to “eat” one of your prized yellow-flowered tree peonies. This is the last tiller it shall spread. It came as no surprise really because this is the way it is with many plants, but bamboos are some of the fastest growing plants, and they are much easier to plant than to remove. Your sharpest, narrowest shovel literally bounces of the mat of tough tillers and roots as if to say, “no, you won’t dig me”. Our Binford Sodbuster 5000, a chisel we invented for cutting out chunks of prairie sod was in my lab.  Fortunately the soil in this particular bed is fairly deep and this was the only weakness this bamboo had, shallow roots. A very well designed digging fork could be thrust, and thrust, and thrust beneath the bamboo, and then the bamboo was pried up, bit by bit until pruning shears could cut loose a portion of the clone. It became a contest of wills, a stubborn gardener vs. an equally stubborn bamboo. Ultimately the superior intellect, OK scratch that, sheer brute force won out.

Some very large clumps of hardy bamboo are now available, free, for a short time only. And the Phactors wondered, did we dare plant any of this bamboo elsewhere? Are there any neighbors that we dislike that much? Do we dare put it further out, perhaps along the rear boundary where the growth of its colonial empire may go unnoticed, for awhile, and perhaps look quite nice, for awhile, as it is a handsome plant, until you realize that even the ornamental sumac, even the Canadian anemone, even the plume poppy (NO, NO, this is really one evil plant!), were not such a problem. In the problem plant category, a 12 year quest to rid our gardens of a feral soapwort is not quite over, and the careful removal of Houttuynia was not quite so careful. Guess we are slow learners at times.  So glad we have no pandas.

2 comments:

Jacquelineand.... said...

Nigh impossible to remove? An aggressive spreader? I'll take two! Bwahahahaha......perfect response to the aggressively yappy, at every hour of the day and night, beagles which belong to the neighbours.

Oh oops, was that my outside voice?

The Phytophactor said...

Be carefulJacqueline, you are beginning to sound like Aunt Pearl (Tuna Texas). So bamboo, OK, bitter pills, not OK.