Friday, February 20, 2015

Fountain Bamboo -- Once in a Lifetime!




My fountain bamboo (fargesia nitida) is blossoming!  I was both excited and, honestly, a bit alarmed when I noticed this on a walk 'round my garden earlier this sunny week (more photos to come).  As wonderful as it is to see a plant bloom for the first time after some ten or more years in one's garden, it quickly became apparent that this clump of bamboo -- chosen carefully for its limited tendency to spread, at the recommendation of a very knowledgeable gardening friend -- might be remarkably prolific in its seeding.

I went immediately to Dr. Google, and found this fascinating article on the long-awaited possibility of these plants blooming in North America. By a wonderful coincidence, the botanist author of the article is writing about plants at UBC, in Vancouver, so the same horticultural zone as my own. I'm summarizing some of the article here, but my grasp of the nomenclature and the basic taxonomies of botany is very limited, so please forgive this layperson's rendition and check out the original should you wish a more satisfying explanation.
 Writing in 2007, the scientist, Jeffery M. Saarela first surveys the scientific knowledge about woody bamboos in general, pointing out their taxonomy has been "particularly challenging because much of their biodiversity occurs in regions that are physically and politically difficult to access, and because many species have long intervals between flowering hence reproductive morphology is often not known." Indeed, the flowering intervals can be as little as 3 or as great as 150 (or more!) years.

From Saarela, I learned that many bamboo species will flower simultaneously and then the flowering individuals, having set seed, will die -- often with serious ecological consequences. As well, I learned that because the flowering occurs at such long intervals, there has been limited availability of reproductive material to describe, so knowledge of these plants is still emerging. Such has been the case with Fargesia nitida, one of two Fargesia species that Saarela was able to observe flowering at UBC.

The back story about my own plant, a F. nitida specimen, was almost as interesting to me as its current flowering. An alpine bamboo, the species is native to China, where it grows at high elevations, and it was first grown in the UK from seed collected in China in 1886 (so right around when my English grandparents were born).  As Saarela points out, "All individuals of these species now grown in the West are believed to originate from these original Chinese collections." That's pretty cool, no?
 But the plot thickens. Apparently, since that seed was collected in 1886, it didn't flower in Great Britain until the early 1990s -- over 100 years later!  Gathering some of the reproductive material from these newly flowering individuals has allowed scientists to "resolve several taxonomic and nomenclatural problems" -- i.e., if I understand correctly, to better sort out affinities and morphological differences that establish family trees.

Observing flowering bamboos at the University of British Columbia campus in 2006 (Saarela acknowledges on-line reports of F. nitida's North American flowering in North America in early to mid 2000s), Saarela went back to check on the plants in early 2007 to see if the expectation of their death after flowering was, in fact, going to be realized. His report is mixed: of the three flowering plants, two had been significantly depleted of foliage, while another looked as healthy and vigorous as the nearby non-flowering individuals. Saarela cautions that "since the flowering cycle in these individuals is presumably not yet complete, it seems premature to determine conclusively their ultimate post-flowering fate."

The article was written, as I say, in 2007, but I can't find any reference online to what happened to those particular bamboo plants later. I'm also curious to know how quickly -- or even whether -- seedlings were identified in the area. I do know that when/if you're buying a Fountain Bamboo (and it's a lovely plant, clumping not spreading, very graceful, quite hardy, lovely in a gentle breeze), any reputable nursery is going to help you make sure you're buying a new generation plant which is unlikely to bloom within your lifetime. So while I'll be sad if we lose this F. nitida -- and face a big void in the garden! -- I'm thrilled that we have ringside seats at a once-in-a-very-long-lifetime botanical phenomenon.

My mother was a keen gardener. A school-teacher by training, home raising her large family for most of her life, she told me once, in her 70s, quite wistfully, that she'd finally discovered what she would have loved to have been -- a horticulturist. She would have been thrilled to see the flowering of this plant, a descendant of seeds harvested before her own mother was born -- and to think that should these seeds bear fruit, the resulting plants would likely not flower until my granddaughter Nola's grandchildren are parents. . . .

Now tell me, do any of you have a Fargesia nitida growing in your garden? (Or do bamboo terrify you with yourtheir colonizing propensities?!) If so, has it bloomed? And if not, any other botanical delights to share this February Friday (and many apologies to those of you who must take botany on faith these days, hidden as it is under a depth of snow). . . . or just shout out a hello on the way to a Happy Weekend!


20 comments:

  1. No bamboo here, but fascinating to read about your specimen. Do let us know if the plant dies after flowering. Such intricate blooms it has.

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    1. I'm really interested to see what happens, Lorrie, and I'll be sure to let you know.

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  2. That's a fascinating story! Will be curious to see how your plants do and whether any seedlings sprout. The only "legacy" plant in my garden is a night blooming jasmine that was raised from a cutting of a 150-year-old plant from a house in San Diego where one of my great-grands (Dad's side) lived at some point.

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    1. So cool! Mine was nursery bought, but all its generation of F. nitida outside of its native home in China appear to have originated from those seeds harvested in 1886 -- no personal connection like yours.

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  3. We fight bamboo on two sides of our back garden...the neighbours have some and the roots are determined to spread and invade our garden. They are super hard to cut too....yours sounds quite exotic.

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    1. We researched pretty carefully before letting bamboo into our garden -- we've had this for over a decade and it's obviously a clumper, not a spreader. Paul did manage to divide it a few years ago and put the division in a huge pot where it's doing well (also blooming!), but yes, it was very tough to cut through the roots. My neighbour has a few plants overly eager to visit, and I'd really hate it if they were as tenacious as what you're facing!

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  4. That is fascinating! I have bamboo of the clumping sort, which I love. I can't imagine it blooming - I'd be thrilled!

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  5. This is so fascinating, and romantic to think of the generations of human life contained in one generation of a plant's life! I had no idea. Bamboo is pretty much verboten around here, like ivy and other invasive plants.

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    1. It is romantic, isn't it?! This bamboo species, btw, isn't invasive (knock on wood!)

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  6. Now there's a sight. I'll be fascinated to hear what happens to it.

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  7. You are a very responsible gardener. Our neighbor planted bamboo for privacy in our very tight city neighborhood and it has become a nightmare, destroying our driveway, even growing through the garage's concrete floor and lifting up the roof. Your plant sounds lovely.

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    1. All bamboos are not equal, and folks should do their research! So unfair to do this to a neighbour. Good luck.

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  8. What a surprise! And such careful researching on your part.

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    1. I was so lucky to be able to find this article, so informative.

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  9. I love this. It feels like "anticipatory hope". I don't know how I would survive without Dr Google in my life:))
    Enjoy your week.
    Xx

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    1. Thanks! (No Dr. Google? Perish the thought!)

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  10. My phyllostachys nigra flowered and died but managed to set a little seed (in a very unsuitable spot). I have let it grow and may risk transplanting it in spring.
    A large yellow bamboo offers useful screening so I just cut out old stems from time to time so that it can move in the wind more freely.

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    1. Oh no! didn't realize the P. Nigra did the same thing. We have a small beautiful stand of black bamboo, and I hate to think of losing it. Although the drama of the flowering might be almost worth it. . . Can you transplant your seedlings? Would you dare try?

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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