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Published on Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hardy Bamboo

Phyllostachys Atrovaginata, "Incense Bambo"

Incense Bamboo is in the family Poaceae, species Phyllostachys Atrovaginata and is so named because it exudes a scent reminiscent of incense on a warm day, or by rubbing the leaves vigorously.  We chose this species over several dozen clumping and running bamboos that would survive our zone 5A climate and frost pocket because it produces large, edible shoots and because the mature culms are excellent for plant stakes, crafts and building projects.  In our cold climate, the may reach 20 -25 feet in height.  In a warmer climate, they can reach 33 feet in height with up to 7cm diameter canes.  Impressive enough to produce a grove canopy that you can walk under!

Cold hardiness means that when subjected to temperatures as low as -10 degrees F. for short periods of time, both the roots and the leaves should survive.  Colder than that or cold for longer spells and the leaves may die back.  However, the roots will usually survive and send up new culms in the spring.

The shoots are edible and rumored to be tasty, but they do require preparation.  The young culms are harvested early spring before they shoot up their stems and leaves.  The larger species are better, because after peeling away the outer culm sheath, there is not much left with the smaller species.  The shoots must be cooked and/or fermented to prevent cyanide from forming in the gut upon consumption.  They are used in Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine.  We look forward to trying some out fresh instead of imported in cans!

Phyllostachys is a running bamboo, feared for its ability to "take over" an area becoming a formidable opponent, especially in urban yards.  This can be true if one does not understand how to take care of the plant.  With two "root prunings" per year (spring and fall), the grove can be contained to any shape or size successfully.  Root pruning entails trenching 6 to 8 inches at the edge of the desired area and cutting off the rhizomes.  Similar to a giant grass, running bamboo spreads 2 to 6 feet or more per year if allowed to through the rhizomes which send up new shoots in the spring.  Luckily the rhizomes travel horizontally and do not go very deep.  The chore is made easier if the grove is planted in an elevated bed to begin with and trenched all around at the initial planting.  We decided to take a chance!

In zones 6 and above, species such as Pyllostachys Edulis Moso are grown for timber used in bamboo flooring using state-of-the-art compression and gluing techniques and furniture.  Canes that are at least 5 years old have the proper density when strength is required.  Sometimes the fiber is used as biomass for alternative "green" fuels. However, here in our zone 5 climate the timber bamboos do not grow as lush and tall, and many choice species will not survive the winters.  We can, however, mass produce high quality canes for crafts, garden stakes etc.  For folks with extra land, this may be a possible income crop.

Facts about Bamboo Poles

  • Bamboo can take up to 2 years to dry naturally.
  • Bamboo will change in color as it dries.
  • Bamboo may split in the process of drying.
  • Bamboo cut poles will rot with exposure to the elements.
  • Bamboo can be bent into many shapes when heated. Once cool the pole will retain the shape it was fashioned.
  • Bamboo is very easy to work with and can be split using simple tools.
  • Bamboo poles taper, the diameter will be different on each end.   Diameter is measured on large end. Typical taper is 5-10% dependent upon size and species of cane.

We got our starts from Bamboo Garden northwest of Portland, Oregon, on a trip to the area in spring.  They charge $25 per pot -- not cheap, but the culms are high quality.  We really enjoyed touring their farm and meeting their dedicated staff, all passionate about bamboo.   We were amazed at the variety of species, from ground covers to towering groves, multiple colors and leaf shapes, interesting culm growth patterns and more. There may be a place for bamboo in your permaculture design!

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Author: Kamori

Categories: Plant and Tree Profiles




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1 comments on article "Hardy Bamboo"


Ed Bryant

4/29/2013 7:47 AM

I don't grow P. Atrovaginata, but I do grow two other Phyllostachys, and my "system for containing them is pretty simple; plant them in a well drained and fairly dry spot, then only water where you want bamboo. They don't seem to like dry soil much. Obviously this won't work near lawns, wet spots or sub-irrigated soils.

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