Among the grasses ( Poaceae family ) we find grass, grass, reed … and of course, bamboo. Bamboos are plants that leave no one indifferent, either because they transport you to Japan, to a tropical climate or simply because you are struck by seeing a grass that exceeds many trees in height. Something very interesting about these plants is that there are many types of bamboo, of all sizes, shapes and colors. Among them are the largest herbaceous plants .
Many people believe that they cannot have bamboo in their plot because they get too big or too invasive. This is not true at all, since there are species that do not exceed 10cm in height and others that do not move from where the plants . Read on to find the bamboo that best suits what you are looking for.
Types of bamboo by rhizome morphology.
This is the main differentiation of these plants, and the one that will always be the same within the genera . That is to say, a Phyllostachys will always have a leptomorphic rhizome and a Bambusa will always have a pachymorph, although the rest of the characteristics will vary depending on the species. Knowing the rhizome does not necessarily tell us how the plant will grow (although it gives us clues), but it does tell us how to reproduce it.
To vegetatively reproduce a leptomorph we need long pieces of rhizome, while for a pachymorph, the base of a cane or cuttings from the cane itself is usually sufficient. Leptomorphs are completely incapable of forming rhizome from canes, hence we do or do need rhizome to reproduce them in this way.
Leptomorphic rhizome bamboos (running)
These bamboos have a horizontal rhizome that always grows underground, and the canes (or more rhizomes) emerge from the lateral buds . This causes many species to develop a large network of rhizomes from which hundreds of reeds appear everywhere a few years later. They can also lengthen them several meters without producing canes, eventually emerging at the other end of the garden . This causes many people to be afraid to plant them and feel a rejection of bamboo. The truth is that not all leptomorphs do that, but it’s hard to make sure they don’t, so if you don’t want to risk it, don’t buy from this type. It is the same type of rhizome that the reed ( Phragmites australis ) has. Something very interesting about this type of bamboo is thatall of them are very resistant to cold .
The most common genera with this type of rhizome are:
- P hyllostachys
Pachymorphic rhizome bamboos (clumping)
These bamboos have a vertical rhizome (with a horizontal part) that lengthens to form the canes, producing more rhizomes or fine canes from the lateral buds if the main ones are damaged. This means that even in invasive species, you can clearly see where the plant is growing and can control it. It is the same type of rhizome that the common cane ( Arundo donax ) has. In general, these bamboos will not occupy an area greater than a couple of square meters, but some tropical and American species break that rule. Even so, if you have a rhizome of this type, you know that with a little control the plant is never going to get out of hand.
The most common genera with this type of rhizome are:
Types of bamboo by the development of the rhizome.
Here we are going to differentiate the invasive ones from those that are not , but it is not as easy as it may seem. The reason for this is that what for some is invasive, for others it may not be. It is undeniable that a robust Fargesia is not invasive and that a Phyllostachys aureosulcata is, but Chusquea gigantea could be placed in either group.
Here we are going to consider invasive those that in a single year can send rhizomes more than 1m away. The vast majority are leptomorphs , but the good thing about this is that the canes all produce them at the same time and their rhizomes are very superficial, so their control is quite simple. Invasive pachymorphs are considerably more difficult to control because they produce canes throughout the year, but virtually all are tropical and rarely cultivated. These bamboos can form forests , as in the case of Phyllostachys edulis . They do not grow well in pots.
In general, all bamboos of this genus are invasive, but only under the right conditions. The two most manageable species for being the least vigorous are Phyllostachys aurea and Phyllostachys nigra . These two can be placed in any garden, as long as we take care of eliminating the canes (and possibly the rhizomes) that they produce where we do not want, which luckily there will not be many. Phyllostachys edulis and Phyllostachys aureosulcata are almost uncontrollable and I only recommend them for large gardens. Phyllostachys bisseti is one of the most common, but it is also very vigorous, so it will need more control than a P. aurea .
The most common is Semiarundinaria fastuosa . They are quite invasive, but since the canes produce them close together, it is very easy to see where the rhizomes go and control them. That, added to the fact that their canes are very vertical (and quite high, over 5m), makes them an excellent windbreak screen or hedge to give privacy.
Very invasive and difficult to control due to how small the rhizomes are . Due to their large leaves, they are very good as an understory plant, especially mixed with other invasive bamboos, but if you have little space, there are other very similar species that are not invasive.
The first that comes to mind when thinking about invasive pachymorphs is Guadua angustifolia , a species that inhabits the jungles of Central America and northern South America. It is highly sought after in frost-free climates for its construction uses and striking looks, but you need plenty of space for it to thrive . In climates with frosts it is perfectly manageable since its size will be much smaller.
These are dwarf bamboos that do not usually exceed half a meter in height, although some species can reach 2m. They form compact masses of reeds, similar to grass, and produce many fine rhizomes that can be difficult to remove . Even so, they are highly recommended for grassing shady areas where we are not going to step, and their small size allows them to be in small gardens as long as it is controlled.
Non-invasive or tussock bamboos
Here we include all those that are never going to get out of hand, because we will clearly know where the rhizomes go and therefore, where the new reeds will come from. The fact that they are not invasive does not mean that we can plant them anywhere, since here are the largest bamboos in the world, as well as the smallest. Most have pachymorphic rhizome.
The most typical genus of large non-invasive bamboos . They are the ones that nurseries usually recommend for areas without frost or at least without strong frosts. Although their canes grow piled up, there are always the odd ones that get further apart. Even so, it is rare that they occupy more than 3 or 4 square meters . The most common is Bambusa oldhamii , which many people are not expected to grow into a monster taller than 10m and a cane diameter of 20cm in a few years (if you live in an area where it will not suffer damage in winter). Another quite common but expensive is Bambusa ventricosa , the Buddha belly bamboo, which although it does not grow so large, its canes appear farther apart, so it occupies much more surface, and does not tolerate frost at all.
It is a genus of bamboos that rarely exceed two meters in height and are not invasive at all. Normally its maximum width will be that of the pot in which you buy it , regardless of whether you put it on the ground or not. They are very resistant to cold, so they are usually recommended in all areas of Spain with strong frosts, but what they do not tell you is that they do not tolerate heat or the lack of environmental humidity. This means that either you put it in the shade, where it does not grow, or it will scorch. They also need a neutral or acidic pH and lime-free water. In the north they do very well, but I do not recommend it for the rest of the country, which is a shame because there are species with blue canes.
These are the non-tropical bamboos with the largest leaves. They have leptomorphic rhizome, but they are not very vigorous and do not invade anything. The Indocalamus latifolius species is as minimally invasive as a Fargesia. Indocalamus tessellatus inside that it can invade a little more, it is very easily controllable and does not usually exceed half a meter in height.
Large tropical bamboos , with some species such as Dendrocalamus giganteus (the largest bamboo in the world), which can exceed 20m in height and 40cm in cane thickness. This species tends to cast some reeds directly attached to the others , so they are apparently controllable. But if we take into account that to cut them you will need a chainsaw … you better have space to grow. Now, it will only grow that much in tropical climates. In a Mediterranean climate, even without frost, it will be rare for it to reach 5m, and in one with frost it will not exceed a meter in height. Other species like Dendrocalamus strictus They do grow well in Mediterranean climates, but although they acquire more manageable sizes, their canes are still very tough, so pruning them can be a problem.
These are generally dwarf bamboos, with leaves larger than the reeds . They have a leptomorphic rhizome and in their climate they can cover entire forests. However, when grown outside their climate they grow too slow to be a problem. Generally they will occupy an area of little more than 1 square meter , and even if it leaves there, it produces few rhizomes so they are easy to control.
They are American bamboos with solid canes . They are not too invasive, but more invasive than most of the ones we have included here, so you have to be careful with them. The reeds can appear more than half a meter apart from each other, but this only in good condition. In Spain, the species of this genus generally do not grow well and grow dwarfed, throwing small piled up canes.
Types of bamboo by size.
This is something that many people look at when deciding which species to buy, but the truth is that it is not reliable at all . It completely depends on the climate you live in and the care you give them. As we have said before, the largest bamboo in the world is only so in a tropical climate, while having it in one with frost, a simple Phyllostachys aurea will be able to overcome it. This makes making these lists complicated, since maximum sizes are usually combined in habitat with typical sizes in cultivation …
Giants (> 10m)
- Dendrocalamus giganteus (up to about 20m in tropical climates, making it the largest bamboo in the world)
- Dendrocalamus asper (up to about 17m in tropical climates)
- Phyllostachys edulis (15m if it grows in good conditions, which makes it the largest leptomorphic rhizome bamboo. In Mediterranean climates it rarely exceeds 5m in height)
- Bambusa oldhamii (15m)
- Guadua angustifolia (15m)
- Phyllostachys viridis (13m)
- Bambusa vulgaris (11m)
- Phyllostachys bambusoides (10m)
- Phyllostachys nigra ‘Boryana’ (10m)
- Lavish semiarundinaria (8m)
- Chusquea gigantea (7m)
- Phyllostachys aureosulcata (7m)
- Phyllostachys bisseti (7m)
- Phyllostachys aurea (6m, although in Mediterranean climates it does not usually exceed about 3m)
- Chimonobambusa quadrangularis (5m)
- Phyllostachys nigra (5m)
- Hibanobambusa tranquillans (3.5m)
- Chusquea couleou (4m)
- Pleiobastus gramineus (4m)
- Fargesia papyrifera (4m)
- Pseudosasa japonica (4m)
- Indocalamus latifolius (3m)
- Multiplex Bambusa (3m)
- Robust Fargesia (3m)
- Chinese Pleiobastus (2m)
- Sasa kurilensis (2m)
- Rufous Fargesia (2m)
- Sasaella masamuneana (1,5m)
- Indocalamus tessellatus (1m)
- Sasa veitchii (0.5m)
- Pleiobastus pygmaeus (0.4m)
- Pleioblastus auricomus (0.3m)
- Pleiobastus pumilus (0.2m)
Types of bamboo by the climate they come from
Although as a general rule all bamboos will endure a couple of degrees below zero, knowing where they come from helps us get an idea about how close they will be to their maximum size. This is due to the fact that those with cold climates do not grow well in areas with hot summers and the tropical ones, even if they support frost, if they lose part of the foliage they usually spend a large part of the year recovering it and do not use their energy in producing new canes, so that are dwarfed. Here we have divided them into these three categories:
We refer to tropical bamboos to all those that come from tropical or subtropical climates and that although they can withstand frost, they will suffer damage that will prevent them from sprouting with force . All those in this category have pachymorphic rhizome and large canes. With sufficient protection they can be grown in any climate, although the colder the smaller their maximum size. When the entire aerial part is frozen, these bamboos sprout as soon as the heat returns with numerous very small canes from the secondary buds of the rhizome.
- Bambusa : most of the species endure until about -5ºC , although losing all the aerial part. The most resistant to cold is Bambusa oldhamii , whose rhizome holds up to -10ºC. Its biggest problem is that several light frosts in a row will burn the leaves and buds, so it will not produce new canes that spring, only sprouts. Even so, this species reaches large sizes even in those cases, it simply takes much longer.
- Dendrocalamus : most resistant to about -3ºC as long as a good mulch is placed on them, but normally any sustained frost freezes the canes and causes that the following year they do not grow well. Curiously, the most resistant to cold seems to be Dendrocalamus giganteus , but since its main attraction is its size and in cold climates we will never be able to enjoy it … it is not a commercial plant.
- Guadua : it is difficult to determine its resistance to cold since it is not usually grown outside of tropical areas of South America. Probably around -2 or -3ºC, dying the aerial part with any frost.
Resistant to cold and heat
Here we include all temperate bamboos that tolerate sun, low humidity and heat, as well as cold . The vast majority of these bamboos survive at temperatures close to -20ºC , although many will drop the leaves below about -5ºC and lose the aerial part below about -10ºC. The good news is that even if they lose the aerial part, they will recover in spring as if nothing had happened. Here we mainly find medium-sized leptomorphs. The bamboos of this group can be grown almost anywhere, as long as we give them the necessary care.
- Phyllostachys : In general, the entire genus Phyllostachys can be included here, with one exception that we will see below. All the most common ones can handle cold and heat without problems, so they are a safe choice. Of course, in cool climates they grow much better.
- Pseudosasa japonica : Prefers some shade, but giving it that, hold whatever. There are other species in the genus Pseudosasa, but they are not cultivated.
- Semiarundinaria : very resistant to everything and very showy.
In this group we find bamboos that, because they come from very cold or humid climates, or because they form the understory of dense forests, are not able to grow in hot climates, where the dry air burns their leaves. We mainly find small-sized pachymorphs and leptomorphs , but moso bamboo is also included here. All these bamboos perfectly withstand cold ( up to between -20 and -30ºC ), but not heat ( they are not recommended in areas with temperatures above 30ºC ).
- Phyllostachys edulis : Moso bamboo, the invasive bamboo of the largest canes and one of the most beautiful, capable of creating a single individual forest. Sadly we will not see those forests in a Mediterranean climate, since any heat wave will leave it to drag. It is a real shame, since it is one of the most spectacular bamboos, with its gigantic velvety gray canes and its tiny leaves, placed on branches that form horizontal planes …
- Sasa, Pleiobastus and Indocalamus : They are understory bamboos, that is, they usually grow under trees. This means that they do not tolerate well growing outside forests unless they are cool climates, such as the north of Spain. Some species of these genera form grasslands in Russia.
- Chusquea : Only suitable for cool climates, since they need full sun but do not like heat.
- Fargesia : These bamboos are some of the non-invasive ones that are often recommended for cold winter climates, but they need some sun and the heat burns them. They are usually able to survive in hot climates, but they do not grow and are in poor condition.
Types of bamboo by flowering
Something that people do not count on is that most bamboos die after flowering , or rather, once they start to flower, they do not stop until they use up all their accumulated energy and die. Many of them can be saved if as soon as they start to flower we remove all the flowering canes, divide the rhizomes and cut all the new canes with signs of going to flower. The bad thing is that even if we save it and end up with several plants, it will be like starting over, since there will be many small plants. If we let them bear fruit, we will get thousands of small plants that will take years to grow to a minimally decent size.
The good thing is that they usually bloom every 50 or 100 years, trying to match all of the same species, so hopefully, you will not see yours bloom (and with bad luck it will bloom after a few years). The two types are:
They are those that die after flowering, that is, those that under normal conditions when they begin to bloom stop developing rhizomes and only produce flower stalks, filling themselves with flowers. This includes the vast majority of bamboos, except for the largest and smallest. The reason for this is that when they die, they allow light to reach those that germinate from their seeds, allowing them to grow. For this reason, the smallest do not die (or do not give much shade or directly grow in the shade), and the largest are able to disperse the seeds far enough not to have to compete with them. Although this is not entirely clear.
Here we include those that after starting to bloom continue to develop rhizomes and new canes normally, producing only a few flowers at a time . The only one that seems to be totally clear that it is polycarpic is Phyllostachys edulis . We can see this from the seeds, which are always for sale, while the rest of the species appear very sporadically. Sasa and Pleiobastus also appear to be polycarpic, producing the typical spikes of other grasses. Dendrocalamus giganteus seems to have a discussion about whether it is or not, since it produces seeds for many years, but since it ends up dying, I would consider it monocarpic.
What do you think of the different types of bamboo? They can be organized in even more ways, such as the uses that are given to them or the color of the reeds, but when it comes to their care, these are the most important groupings. I hope this article has helped you to learn something about these fantastic plants and I invite you to plant bamboo in your garden.