Chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa)

Recently I declared baby blue bamboo (Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’) to be my favorite bamboo at the moment. Close runner up is a montane (or “mountain”) bamboo from Yunnan province in southwestern China: Borinda fungosa, or commonly called “chocolate bamboo”. This is a medium-sized clumper with a mature height of 14-18 ft., hardy to about 15°F, with lime green leaves that have the classic bamboo profile. When exposed to sun, the culms turn a rich reddish brown, hence the common name. After the branches are fully leaved out, the culms gently arch under the weight of the leaves, forming a lush canopy of green.

Borinda fungosa culm turning a rich red when exposed to sun. This photo was taken at Man Man Bamboo nursery where I obtained my plant. The most beautiful specimen I’ve seen was at Bamboo Sourcery in Sebastopol; their 15- and 25-gallon plants had 0.5-inch culms that truly were chocolate-colored.

Montane bamboos hail from higher elevations (often 7000 ft. or higher) where daytime temperatures rarely exceed 80°F. Therefore, they don’t generally do well in hot climates, especially where the humidity and night-time temperatures in the summer are high. Fortunately in our climate where summer temperatures routinely hit 100°, we are able to grow montane bamboos relatively easily because we cool off into the 60s at night and our humidity is very low—in the summer sometimes even below 20%. The key is to plant montane bamboos in spots where they’re protected from the scorching afternoon sun.

The biggest issue we face in the Sacramento Valley is drought. Since it typically doesn’t rain from April or May to late October, we rely on irrigation for pretty much everything we plant. No bamboo is truly drought-tolerant but some, including Borinda fungosa, make do with less water than many other species.

This photo was taken on 12/10/09
right after I planted our Borinda fungosa

Our Borinda fungosa came in a 25-gallon pot so it had a large root ball already. I planted it in our shade garden off the dining room where it fits in perfectly among the hostas, ferns and columbines. I amended the planting hole with lots of compost and a good dose of time-release fertilizer. Compare the photos above and below. Nice progress in the first six months!

Half a year later on 5/9/10

In June I bought a Japanese granite lantern and put a low bamboo border around the shade garden, which gave the area the serene Asian atmosphere I had been after. For me, Borinda fungosa has the most beautiful leaf profile of any clumping bamboo, and I find it perfect for this spot.

On 7/3/10; noticeably more leaves than in May

The final two photos are from this morning. There are many more leaves now, and the culms are bending under their weight.

Today, on 10/29/10; the culms are bending under the weight of the leaves…

In the summer, our Borinda fungosa produced a good half dozen new culms. The tallest ones are around 10 ft. and are just beginning to leaf out. Since we’re entering our cold-weather season, I expect them to stop their growth very soon and to continue leafing out in the spring.

…leaning protectively over the other woodland plants

I’m very pleased with the way our Asian-inspired shade garden has turned out, and Borinda fungosa is an integral part of it. Looking out at this area from the dining room makes me happy, and that’s what gardening is all about.