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.
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?
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."
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