Marie Selby Botanical Garden Logo

Bamboo: a Beautiful Grass that Thinks It’s a Tree

bamboo-320x240Bamboo is one of nature’s most interesting plants.  Although it looks like a tree, Bamboo is actually a perennial evergreen in the grass family.  There are over a thousand different species in the world, with a tremendous diversity of sizes, growth habits, and environmental preferences. The largest grow to 120 feet tall with twelve inch diameter canes; the smallest are creeping ground covers barely a few inches tall.  With a reputation for invasiveness, bamboo is an extremely underutilized category of landscaping plants in Florida.  While it’s true that some kinds do spread quite aggressively, there is a whole different category of bamboos that do not.

The Difference Between Clumpers and Runners
For landscaping purposes, it’s good to know that there are two main types of bamboo: running and clumping.  This is determined by what kinds of roots or rhizomes they have, as well as how fast they spread. Clumpers grow in dense clumps and slowly expand from the place of origin (making them ideal for a yard). Runners spread quickly from where they began and tend to take over anywhere that they exist.

Interesting Bamboo Facts

  • Bamboo grows naturally without the aid of pesticides or fertilizer and requires very little water
  • Bamboo comes in hundreds of varieties, with varying heights and colors
  • Bamboo is easy to grow in a range of climatic conditions
  • Bamboo produces 30% more oxygen than trees—critical element in the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • Bamboo contains an anti-bacterial agent, bamboo kun, that prevents, kills or reduces the growth of bacteria 

So how long does it take bamboo to reach full size? It depends on the plants’ starting size and the species. Depending on the variety, a 3-gallon pot can reward the home gardener with impressive growth in as few as two-five years’ time. Clumping bamboos have a number of other virtues beyond their lack of invasiveness. The tight growing habit of the clumpers creates wonderful shade and makes them an outstanding visual screen and sound barrier. A wall of evergreen foliage provides unparalleled privacy as well as beauty.

With so many options, there are ideal varieties for nearly every application. Choosing the right varieties for screening and hedging will solve privacy issues better than any other plant material. Some of the ornamental bamboos make a stunning landscape statement. Most varieties work well in a mixed tropical garden. They are also amazingly resilient plants. They tend to bend in strong winds without breaking – a bonus in hurricane-prone climates. There are several groves of bamboo on display around Selby Gardens – many were originally planted by Marie Selby nearly 100 years ago. She planted them to block what she considered an unappealing view of development occurring across Sarasota Bay from her home.

Learn more about these fascinating plants by visiting the Gardens soon.

Resize Fonts