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Japanese Garden Plants
This is where to find details on plants. We don't have a lot of images, but we'll be providing articles and details as we are able. If you have materials to contribute or gaps to fill in, please let us know.

Japanese Name:take, sasa, -chiku, -dake 
English Name:Bamboo 
Latin Name:Arundinaria sp., Bambusa sp., Phyllostachys sp., Pleioblastus pygmaeus, Semiarundinaria sp., Sasa sp., Shibataea kumasaca, Sinarundinaria nitida 
Family: 
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Last Updated:3/24/2001 
Details: Bamboo is an amazing plant. Many people think of it as a tree since it grows to the size and height of a tree, but in fact, it is a grass. More than any other plant, it also is perhaps the most representative of East, Southeast, and South Asia. Enormously useful in terms of constructing tools, vehicles and dwellings, many species are also edible at certain times of the year.

Bamboo grows at an incredible speed. If you go outside at night in the spring (most plants grow at night) it is actually possible to see bamboo growing. Bamboo spreads through rhyzomes, just as other grasses do. The resulting underground matte of roots is ideal for holding slopes and riverbanks (a bamboo grove is said to be the safest place in an earthquake) but is also representative of its chief danger to the residential gardener. Though not all species are invasive, most are. If you are going to plant bamboo in your backyard, check with your local nursery to determine to what extent the species you are considering is invasive. If it is invasive, you should consider another species or else stop its spread with some kind of barrier.

The bamboo family is made up of 50 genera and 1,250 species. Only fifteen groups are native to Japan, mostly of the spreading root variety. The sympodial (clump forming) groups are usually limited to tropical parts of the world. The larger madake and môsô make up most of the varieties in Japan. Sasa or bamboo grass is a sort of dwarf bamboo and also covers large swaths of Japan.

Bamboos are best planted in well-drained, moist soil. They are tolerant of nutrient poor soil but do not do well on badly drained sites. They should be kept watered during the two to three years it will take to establish them. Shorter species should be cut back in the late winter/early spring. Larger varieties should be thinned to allow in more light. The bamboo's naturally invasive nature can be controlled with a barrier sunk to about 20-24 inches. Only the first emerging shoots of bamboo are edible and the must be harvested just as the culm is emerging in April and May. Even waiting a day will make them too tough and unsavory for eating. Phyllostachys pubescens (môsô-chiku) is said to be the best. It can grow to 20 meters in height and is already at its full girth (up to 8 inches [20cm])when it emerges as a shoot from the ground. Phyllostachys bambusoides (madake) grows to the same height though only to about a 5-6 inch diameter. It is the most widely spread species in Japan.

Bamboo is often said to flower only once every 100 years. This is not strictly true. Some species flower every year. However, flowering is a great strain on the plant and most species flower only once every 50-120 years. When they do, it is usually followed either by slow growth for several years or massive dieback. A few species flower en masse no matter their location and climate, synchronizing their dieback/suicide across oceans and continents. It is now clear how or why this happens, but the flowering of bamboo has become a harbinger of disaster.

If you are visiting gardens in Kyoto and are particularly interested in bamboo, be sure to visit the Kyoto Botanical Gardens in the north on the banks of the Kamo-gawa. They have one of the best specimen collections of bamboo in the world.


Species: (beware, even the latin names change often.)
The Japanese recognize hundreds of varieties of bamboo. The following list includes many of the most important ones. [Thanks to Mike Yamakami for help in supplementing this list. rc 8/24/2001]

Latin nameJapanese NameNotes
Pleioblastus distichusoroshima chiku< 




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