Saturday, July 16, 2011

Visit to Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery, Gold Beach, OR

Vacationing in Brookings on the Southern Oregon coast, I finally got a chance to visit Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery located 20 miles up the road in Gold Beach. Started in 1993 on a hilly 2½ acre property just south of town by Gib Cooper and his wife Diane, Tradewinds has grown into one of the premier bamboo nurseries on the West Coast, if not in the entire country.

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Oregon coast south of Gold Beach

The location is stunning: The nursery is located less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. The climate in this part of Oregon, dubbed the “Banana Belt,” is enviably mild. According to Gib, winter lows rarely reach 20°F; some years see virtually no frost. This allows Tradewinds to grow a wide range of both clumping and running bamboos, including species you wouldn’t expect to see in Oregon, such as Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ and Bambusa textilis, or cold-sensitive Chusquea species such as Chusquea sulcata.

Carrying about 200 species, more than 100 of which are also planted in the ground, Tradewinds specializes in mountain bamboos, including Borinda, Fargesia, Thamnocalamus, and especially Chusquea. Gold Beach’s climate is very similar to southern Chile and hence ideal for most Chusquea. In fact, Gib Cooper was instrumental in introducing several Chusquea species to the United States.

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Potted Drepanostachyum sengteeanum, a very elegant but not very cold-hardy mountain bamboo
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Borinda utilis growing next to 5 ft. ferns. With its small delicate leaves, it’s a beautiful plant that doesn’t seem to be planted much. It’s supposed to handle full sun better than most other borindas.
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18-year old clump of chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa), the same species growing in our small Asian-inspired woodland garden. Seeing the size of this specimen, I realized that I’ll have to judiciously prune mine to prevent it from taking over that corner of the backyard.

Chusquea is probably the least understood of the mountain bamboos. Experts indicate that many species are yet to be identified, and even named species are in a state of taxonomic flux. Gib showed me three or four forms of Chusquea culeou that were so different in size and growing habit that some of them may well be assigned species status down the line. My favorite Chusquea culeou form was one with particularly red culms that Gib found in more than 1,000 seedlings. He appropriately named it ‘Roja,’ and a small specimen made its way home with me.

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Chusquea culeou, weeping form
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Chusquea culeou, green form
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Chusquea culeou ‘Caña Prieta’
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Chusquea andina
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Chusquea bilimekii in a conifer forest on Gib’s property. This is rare species grown from seed Gib collected during a 1999 expedition to Mexico. There it grows in pine forests at 9,000 ft.
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Chusquea cumingii.
This is a very interesting climbing bamboo which in its native habitat clambers up trees. Without support, the culms flop over and form an impenetrable barrier as seen here.

The most impressive Chusquea species of all might well be Chusquea gigantea. I planted a small one in my in-laws’ yard last year, and I was thrilled to see mature specimens at Tradewinds. Chusquea gigantea is Gib’s most productive species. He harvests many culms each year, some of which he turns into bamboo doormats. Since Chusquea culms are completely solid, as opposed to the hollow internodes of most other bamboo species, they are ideal for construction projects.

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Chusquea gigantea. While technically a clumping bamboo, it has a relatively open growth habit. In a mature stand, the culms don’t grow at an angle but straight up, much like those of a running bamboo.

I was also happy to finally see in person a number of other mountain bamboos I’d read about, including the numbered forms of Fargesia nitida ‘Jiuzhaigou’ (1, 2, 4, 10) and some recent Borinda introductions such as Borinda lushuiensis, potentially the largest and most beautiful Borinda in cultivation in the U.S., and Borinda papyrifera with arguably the bluest culms of any bamboo. I know of no other place in the U.S. where you can see so many mountain bamboos in one spot. The fact that Chris Stapleton, the world’s leading expert on Asian mountain bamboos, has visited Tradewinds on more than one occasion is a testament to the caliber of Gib Cooper’s collection.

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Borinda lushuiensis

Ironically, as ideal as the climate of Gold Beach has proven to be for so many clumping bamboos, some common running bamboos are struggling. Gib pointed out a stand of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) that looked rather sad, with half-withered leaves and unremarkable culms—the opposite of the vigorous specimens with elegant dark-green leaves and polished jet-black culms I’m used to seeing around Sacramento. Apparently some Phyllostachys have a hard time with the often violent winds and the salty air.

Other Phyllostachys are doing better, especially moso (Phyllostachys edulis). While the culms weren’t as thick as some I’d seen elsewhere and the growth habit was more dense, the plants were clearly thriving. Gib also has some rare striped moso (Phyllostachys edulis ‘Goldstripe’) which he culled from the several thousand seedlings he started with.

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Moso (Phyllostachys edulis)

In addition to local sales to homeowners and landscape designers, Tradewinds runs a successful Internet operation at BambooDirect.com. Most of their stock is available for purchase online, and I encourage you to take a look at their huge variety of mountain bamboos.

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I also saw my first Yushania alpina, one of the few bamboos native to Africa. This open clumper has root primordia on the lower internodes (the thorn-like protrusions in the photo above).

It is truly impressive what Gib and Diane have accomplished. Working their tree-studded hilly property cannot be easy, and planting and taking care of so many bamboos is back-breaking labor. I can’t imagine that the monetary rewards are commensurate with the work that is required, and it is clear that the Coopers are doing this because they love bamboo and want to promote its use in the U.S. both as an ornamental landscape plant and as a timber crop. Considering the intractable resistance much of the general population seems to harbor towards bamboo, it’s an uphill struggle, but without pioneers like the Coopers we’d never get there.

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Gib Cooper in front of Chusquea culeou

More posts from our trip to Southern Oregon:

4 comments:

  1. Oh my, any idea how long they (the bamboo have been in the ground? I feel bad that the growing area is limited to such a small area.

    M

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  2. M, some of the bamboos have been in the ground for 18 years. Don't feel bad for them, they looked quite happy.

    2.5 acres is huge to me. That's 12 times the size of our property, LOL.

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  3. My collection has several plants that came from Gib's nursery. Thanks Gerhard for sharing your travels up the Oregon Coast. I especially like the Chusquea andina. I just wish it wasn't so hot here in Sacramento, I'd have alot more chusqueas.

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  4. Sean, that Chusquea andina was sweet. A totally unique look with its stiff bluish gray leaves. Like you, I wish I could grow it here. It's pretty compact, too.

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