Friday, August 12, 2011

Clumping bamboos going great guns

Spring is the time when most running bamboos, like black bamboo and its siblings from the genus Phyllostachys, produce new shoots. By summer, the new culms have reached their final height and have branched out. Running bamboos now pump their energy into growth underground—this is the time of year when the rhizomes “run” horizontally.

In contrast, summer is the peak shooting time for subtropical and tropical clumping bamboos. In their native habitat, this coincides with the onset of the rainy season. While in our climate summers are bone dry, supplemental irrigation ensures that our bamboos’ water needs are met as they send up one new culm after another.

Even though we live in a climate with mild winters where temperatures rarely drop below 25°F, we’re still limited as to what kind of tropical clumpers we can grow. Quite a few of the most spectacular bamboos don’t survive below 30°F, so I will forever lust after the famed Timor black bamboo (Bambusa lako) or Sacred Bali bamboo (Schizostachyum brachycladum).

Nevertheless, many Bambusa species do very well in our climate. In fact, we have five different Bambusa growing in our front yard. All of them are in the midst of their annual shooting cycle, and it’s exciting checking on their progress every day.

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Bambusa oldhamii (left), Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ (middle),
Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ (right, behind gate)

 

Oldham’s bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii)

Bambusa oldhamii is the largest clumping bamboo we can grow in our climate zone. It has the potential to grow to 50 ft. with a culm diameter of 4 in. I don’t know if it will get quite that tall here, but I’m hoping for 35-40 ft. This would give us the tree-like effect we’re looking for in front of our house. In fact, this Bambusa oldhamii replaced a tree that had to be removed due to mistletoe damage.

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Bambusa oldhamii in front of our house

Bambusa oldhamii forms a tight clump, so even a mature specimen has a relatively compact footprint (check out these photos I took in Sydney, Australia). This makes it a great choice for smaller suburban lots like ours.

Our oldhamii was planted just 1½ years ago as a 5-gallon plant, and its development has been nothing short of phenomenal. The fattest of this year’s culms is over 2 in. in diameter.

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The tallest of this year’s culms…
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…and the fattest (2 in.)

 

Baby Blue bamboo (Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’)

As speedy as Bambusa oldhamii’s growth has been, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ has been equally impressive. Check out these posts to see its explosive development: October 2010, March 2011, July 2011.

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New culms on Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’

New culms are covered with a white powder which gives them a bluish coloration. In my book, this is one of the most attractive of all the tropical clumpers that can be grown outside of the tropics.

The downside about Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ is its availability, or lack thereof. In our neck of the woods, it grows as well as any of the common clumpers like Alphonse Karr, and yet none of the Northern California bamboo nurseries carry it. I hope this will change soon; with its gorgeous culms and its elegant leaves, this could become a very popular landscaping plant.

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Bambusa chungii  ‘Barbellata’ is called Baby Blue Bamboo because of the bluish coloring of the new culms…
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…but it could also be called Hairy Bamboo! The hairy culm sheath will fall as soon as branches begin to emerge.

 

Alphonse Karr bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’)

Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ is probably the most common clumping bamboo planted in our area. It is widely available, matures quickly, and has an attractive overall look. It is also hardy to 15°F so it can be grown in more places than other tropical clumpers. (Bambusa oldhamii and Bambusa chungii, for instance, are only rated to 21°F.)

We have two Alphonse Karrs. The one in the front yard, right behind the gate, was a large division from a local homeowner; it has been in the ground for 1½ years. The one in the backyard was bought as a 5-gallon plant from Madman Bamboo; it has been in the ground for 2 years. Both specimens are a couple of years away from their mature size when they should reach a height of 20 ft. and a culm diameter of 1½ in.

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Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ in the front yard…
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…and in the back yard where its vicinity to the clothesline is an issue

 

Asian Lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’)

Asian Lemon bamboo is a relatively recent introduction, and its availability in California is quite limited. I was lucky to find a 15-gallon plant last year and I’m happy to see that this year’s culms are bigger than last year’s. I think this specimen is still a few years away from maturing, but according to the American Bamboo Society’s Species Source List, it should reach a height of 25 ft. with a culm diameter of 1 in. (the new culms are ¾ in. already).

This is a beautiful bamboo, and the yellow coloration of the culms is much more vibrant than that of Alphonse Karr. In terms of hardiness, it’s rated to 21°F. If you come across a specimen in a nursery, grab it. You won’t be disappointed.

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Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’

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It’s easy to see why its common name is “Asian Lemon Bamboo”
                                                                                                                                     

 

Emerald bamboo (Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’)

The final clumping bamboo in front of our house is Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’. It’s a form of weaver’s bamboo (Bambusa textilis) and experts are still debating as to how different it really is. In Florida, it’s being sold as emerald bamboo because of the deep green color of its culms. It’s one of the hardier Bambusa varieties, rated 18°F by the American Bamboo Society.

Emerald bamboo is also a fairly tall bamboo (to 40 ft.) with a mature culm diameter of 2½ in. It forms a very tight clump with a small footprint which allows it to be planted in relatively small spaces—like the spot between our fence and the street light (see photo below). However, I’m already planning on removing the large maidenhair grass this winter because there isn’t enough room for both of them.

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Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’ behind the street light

I bought our emerald bamboo last winter from Bamboo Sourcery, which at the time was having a going-out-of-business sale (they reopened this spring). I only paid $40 for a 15-gallon plant, which is a very good deal.

This year’s culms are not only twice the diameter of the old ones, they are also remarkably beautiful. They have have whitish pinstripes—not common for emerald bamboo but I’m not complaining!

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Pretty impressive new culms, and beautiful striping on the culm sheaths and the actual culms.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tower of jewels: new beginnings

In May, our tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) finally started to bloom. I had been waiting for this since I planted it in the fall of 2009. Tower of jewels is a drought-tolerant biennial from the Canary Islands; in year 1 it produces a rosette of soft gray-green leaves, and in year 2 the rosette elongates into a cone up to 8 ft. tall (ours was only about 5 ft.) eventually covered with small flowers. Check out my original post; it has lots of photos of the flowers.

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May 18, just past its peak

Like all biennials, tower of jewels dies after setting seeds. And it is a seed-making machine! I have no idea how many there were, but probably thousands. Check out this post from June about the seed production stage.

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June 11, done blooming
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June 16, seeds

By mid-July, the flower cone had dried up completely, and I’m sure quite a few seeds fell off into the surrounding planting bed. No seedlings yet as far as I can tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some pop up later in the year.

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July 24, completely dried up

Initially, the flowers were as soft as the leaves on the rosette had been—they had the same tactile quality as lamb’s ears. However, as they began to dry up, what was left became hard and prickly, unpleasantly so. In fact, after touching the plant, tiny barbs remain in your skin—much like what happens when you touch one of those soft-looking Bunny Ears prickly pears (Opuntia microdasys 'Albata').

At the end of July, I cut down the top ⅔ of the tower (wearing thick gloves!) and stripped off the seed heads onto a tarp spread out on the lawn. My mother, who was visiting at the time, separated the seeds from the chaff and we ended up with a nice little pile.

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July 24, Christmas tree-like skeleton remaining after we had harvested the seeds
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Then something curious happened. This is what the remaining ⅓ of the tower looked like after I had cut off the top:

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July 24, topped tower

By early August, new leaves had begun to grow from the stalk!

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August 3, new leaves?

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Actually, I had hoped that this would happen. I’d read a post on Dave’s Garden by a gardener in Southern California who reported a second bloom after cutting off the top of the tower. I have no idea if my tower will bloom again or whether it will simply expend its remaining energy on a few leaves, but time will tell.

In the meantime, I placed some seeds in a pot filled with well-draining soil, and after three weeks six seedlings have come up. I will coddle them along until they’re big enough to go into their own pots and eventually in the ground. I’m not sure I have room for six towers of jewels, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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August 10, seedlings

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fancy California sister

Yesterday, my daughters (10 and 12) proudly brought me a dead butterfly they’d found in my in-laws’ driveway. It was not only beautiful, but also in beautiful condition, so I put it in a glass dish and photographed it. I’m not very experienced at photographing insects and other small critters, so the fact that this one was dead certainly helped. One could say it was very cooperative!

I only know a few common butterflies by sight, and this one was not one of them. I sent a photo to fellow garden blogger Alan of It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening because I knew he is quite the insect expert. Alan was able to identify it using the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America, and it’s a California sister (Adelpha californica). Gotta love the name! I wonder where it comes from? Is there also a Nevada sister, or an Arizona sister? Or maybe an hermana mexicana?

Never mind, I just read that the name comes from the fact that the coloring of the wings resembles a nun’s habit. Personally, I’ve never seen a nun wearing orange, but what do I know? Maybe they are referring to a Hare Krishna sister? They do like orange!

Apparently the California sister prefers oak woodlands (the larvae eat oak leaves) and can also be found in conifer forests between 3000 and 7000 ft. The adults prefer things like rotting fruit, aphid honeydew, and even dung over flower nectar. It’s clear that butterflies have a much more interesting lifestyle than I suspected!

Anyway, I really enjoyed taking a closer look at this butterfly, and I hope you’ll enjoy the photos. The inside of the wings has a metallic iridescence that is particularly stunning.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chusquea up close

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I’ve been planting bamboo at my in-laws’ place in Mount Shasta, mostly running bamboos that would be much too invasive in our tiny suburban yard. I’ve also planted two species of chusquea, a clumping bamboo native to South America. Chusqueas need cool summer nights to thrive, and Mount Shasta is just the place.

Last fall, I planted a Chusquea gigantea, and it’s put out a number of new culms this year that are noticeably thicker than before. It is known to be a vigorous grower, so next year we may see 10 ft. culms.

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Chusquea gigantea and Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’

On a recent trip to Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery in Gold Beach, Oregon, I picked up a Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’, and it’s currently planted about 12 ft. from the Chusquea gigantea. In hindsight, I wish we’d allowed for a bit more space because it, too, can become quite large. I will most likely move it by another 6 ft. during our next visit, just to be on the safe side.

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Chusquea culeou ‘Roja’, planted just a month ago

As I was checking out the bamboos at my in-laws this past weekend, I was drawn to the details that are easy to overlook when you focus primarily on the overall picture. The way new branches burst out of the nodes on the culms can be quite dramatic, especially on chusqueas which have many more branches than other kinds of bamboo. The photos below are all of the Chusquea gigantea at my in-laws.

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New culm. The culm sheaths are being pushed off by new branches.
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Somewhat older branches that have already spread out like an umbrella
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Newly emerging branches
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Whorl of new branches
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The most delicate new branches have a vivid light green appearance. For some reason, they remind me of tender new lettuce seedlings.
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Yet another bundle of branches emerging
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The culm sheaths—the papery husks covering the culms as they emerge from the ground—are attractive in their own right. I love the irregular black splotches.
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The sheaths begin to tear as the branches emerge…
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…and often they hang on at a rakish angle before finally falling off

I hope you enjoyed this closer look at bamboo anatomy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Our front yard in early August

The other morning I woke up to a high fog. This is common on the California coast, but virtually unheard of in Davis in the summer months. I grabbed the camera and took a bunch of photos of our front yard since the lighting was very soft and even, producing photos with more detail and less harsh shadows.

This is my monthly stock-taking of how things look at a specific point in time. This will help me down the line to determine which plants work and which don’t. Luckily, almost everything in our front yard is to my satisfaction at the moment.

As I’ve said before, if you don’t already take photos of your garden at regular intervals, you should! You’ll appreciate being able to track the progress of your plantings over the course of time.

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Plantings outside the fence
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The green “mass” in the center is Bambusa oldhamii
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Here you can see Bambusa oldhamii towering over the other plants. I will have a separate post about this clumping timber bamboo soon. The plants visible just above the fence on the left are butterfly gingers (Hedychium coronarium).
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Bog sage (Salvia uliginosa) in front of Bambusa oldhamii. We have three or four specimens of bog sage, and this year they’ve finally taken off (it took about three years). As its name already suggests, it prefers regular irrigation although it’s able to survive with relatively little water. Our bog sage is 5 ft. tall this year. The sky-blue flowers are striking.
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Grasses looking great all summer. The variegated grass in the back is Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rigoletto’, the one in the front is Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose.’
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The black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) have been blooming non-stop, adding a great pop of color amidst the grasses.
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Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ with Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips') in the upper right (taking a break from blooming right now)
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Even though this Grosso lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’) is done blooming for the moment, it still provides a lot of visual interest—and smells fantastic. The Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) on the right is just starting to bloom.
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Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland.’ Unlike ‘Rigoletto’ seen in the photos above, ‘Dixieland’ has much wider blades.
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Desert Sunrise agastache (Agastache rupestris x cana ‘Desert Sunrise’) on the left, bloomed-out Grosso lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’) in the back, and black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) in the front. The large clump next to the black-eyed susans is a firepoker (Kniphofia uvaria).
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Partial view of the succulent bed next to the front door, plus assorted potted plants on the edge of the covered porch. The large green urn in the middle holds a Rhodocoma capensis, a restio from South Africa (click here to read an earlier post about restios).
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The corner to the right of the covered porch: lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus), sago palm (Cycas revoluta), Asian Lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’) in the ground.

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Asian Lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’). Two recent culms are now 8 ft. tall, two new ones just popping out of the ground. The culm color is fantastic. This specimen has been in the ground less than a year and it’s too early to say how it will perform over the longer term, but it made it through the winter just fine. It’s still very difficult to find in Northern California but it has become popular in Florida.
                                                                                                                                                                    
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Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) on the left, lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus) on the right
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Succulent bed. The plant in the foreground (left) is a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata). I can’t wait for its caudex to get big like this one (actually, our specimen are three plants, i.e. three caudices, clumped together).
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Front (left to right): Canna indica, golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa)
Back (left to right): Bambusa oldhamii, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’

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Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’, aka Baby Blue bamboo

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Front: golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa), dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln')
Top center: variegated Eureka lemon (Citrus limon 'Eureka Variegated Pink’)

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Wider view of the same corner. The cannas (Canna indica sp.) are amazing. They freeze to the ground every year and come back stronger in the spring. I thinned them earlier in the year and will need to do that again this year. Lots of rhizomes to give away!
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Left: Miscanthus sinensis 'Super Stripe'
Center back: Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Center: white-flowered Liatris spicata and Rudbeckia fulgida.
Front: Echinacea x ‘Fragrant Angel’, California gray rush (Juncus patens)