Bamboo Basics

Brief Summary of How Bamboo Grows:

60 Day Growing Period

Bamboo produces new canes (culms) in the Spring. These shoots emerge out of the ground and grow in height and diameter for around 60 days. During this 60 day period it will produce limbs and leaves.

After 60 days...

After the 60 day period of growth, this bamboo cane does not grow in height or diameter again. It will put on new foliage every year, and typically a cane last for 10 years.
Bamboo is a member of the grass family. It is a colony plant, so it uses energy from this existing plant to produce more plants the next year increasing the size of the colony. The new plants will grow in the same manner. New shoots emerge to turn into a cane with limbs and leaves within a 60 day period.

It takes bamboo about three years to get established. Once established the new shoots that emerge in the Spring (they will still only grow for 60 days) will continue to get bigger and more numerous from year to year. It takes a varying number of years (4-15) for different species to reach their maximum size. This is dependent on species selection, soil, sunlight, climate and watering conditions.

Bamboo Taxonomy

Bamboo is a member of the grass family. The bamboo are classified according to their type, species and variety. There are over 1200 types of bamboo worldwide and identification is done according to its flower.

The 'experts' agree on the following taxonomy of how bamboo is classified. These facts are from the American Bamboo Society's findings.

KINGDOM: Plantae
PHYLUM ( DIVISION): Magnoliophyta
CLASS: Liliopsida
SUBCLASS: Commelinidae
ORDER: Cyperales
FAMILY: Gramineae (Poaceae)
SUBFAMILY: Bambusoideae
TRIBE: Bambuseae
SUBTRIBE Bambusinae

More simply put bamboo is a giant grass and is a member of the Gramineae. The subfamily of this class is Bambusoideae. All the types of bamboo such as the cold hardy temperate species fall into a Genus next. An example of this would be the Phyllostachys that we grow many of here in Alabama and through out the U.S. Next comes the Species such as nigra (Black Bamboo). Then the Cultivar of this species such as the Henon (Giant Gray). When a cultivar flowers it may or may not create a stable new variety. This happened fairly recently when ( what I consider a unstable cultivar) the cultivar Phyllostachys vivax 'Aureocaulis' started to produce the variety P. vivax 'Huangwenzhu' within the groves of 'Aureocaulis'.

Bamboo differs from many plants in the manner that it has to be identified. The problem lies in the fact that it rarely flowers and this is the easiest way to identify plants. Flowering can vary from a few years up to one hundred and twenty years. Fortunately, the Chinese and Japanese have maintained good records on many species. The rest have been grouped and identified based wholly on vegetative structures.

Bamboo goes years between flowering, this can be from 20 to over 120 years, so classification is often difficult. When a species of bamboo does flower, the grove may or may not establish itself again. The rhizomes (root system) may establish the grove or the flowering process may produce new seedlings.

The major division in bamboo occurs in their growing patterns. This is divided into two groups, running and clumping bamboo.
Running bamboo has monopodial or leptomorph rhizome (root) systems. It produces vertical axis (canes or culms) and the main vegetative growth can extent underground to produce additional culms. Typically forming a line of growth. Best application for privacy screens or large walk through groves.

Clumping bamboo has sympodial or pachmorph rhizome systems. Vertical axis differentiates and produce a terminal vegetative growth. Typically produces an expanding spiral growth pattern. Best application is solitary planting.