Bamboos at San Francisco Botanical Garden, part 2

Yesterday, I talked about some of the clumping bamboos I saw at San Francisco Botanical Garden. Today’s post is about the running bamboos I encountered.

Pleioblastus (running)

Pleioblastus is a genus of small to medium-sized running bamboos, many of them very useful as groundcovers or hedges. The dwarf varieties can be cut to the ground in early spring to stimulate new growth for a clean look. All species prefer at least partial shade and are hardy to 5°F or below.

If you have a small yard like we do, I would not plant pleioblastus in the ground—if you must, patrol the area vigilantly through the growing season to make sure your plant doesn’t stray. I have several pleioblastus species and they’re all contained: the dwarf species like Pleioblastus distichus and Pleioblastus fortunei to a pot or shallow bowl, and the taller Pleioblastus gramineus to one of our stock tanks.

Dwarf white-stripe bamboo (Pleioblastus fortunei) pruned into a low hedge along the bamboo pond. This is a beautiful small bamboo that can be shaped as needed. It is also very attractive in a large shallow bowl.

Phyllostachys (running)

Phyllostachys is a large genus of medium to giant running bamboos native to the temperate and semitropical areas of eastern Asia where they grow from sea level to 12,000 ft. When people hear the word “bamboo”, this is typically what they think of.

The genus Phyllostachys comprises many of the most beautiful bamboos as well as many of the most useful. For example, Phyllostachys edulis (moso), grows in giant forests in China. If you’ve seen the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you know how stunningly beautiful a moso forest is. However, moso is also the economically most important bamboo in China. Virtually all bamboo flooring, panels and boards sold in the U.S. is made from Chinese moso.

Most phyllostachys species prefer full sun but tolerate some shade. They are the hardiest large bamboos (20 ft. and above) in cultivation, with some species surviving temperatures as low as -15°F.

If you have a large property and want a bamboo grove you can walk through, put phyllostachys in the ground, water it well and stand back. However, most people planting phyllostachys will want some form of containment, be it a rhizome barrier or a raised planting bed. This article from Needmore Bamboo in Indiana provides a good overview of the various containment strategies available for running bamboos.

Many phyllostachys species like the much-loved black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) also do well in large pots, half barrels or similar containers. Here is a good article on growing bamboos in containers.

Phyllostachys nigra ‘Bory’. This variety of black bamboo is known as “tiger bamboo” or “snakeskin bamboo”. Its culms age to a mottled brown, often with quite a bit of green still visible.
Phyllostachys nigra ‘Bory’ forms a grove in the Temperate Asia Garden, right next to the Bamboo Pond.
A path allows visitors to walk right through the ‘Bory’ grove.
Phyllostachys nigra ‘Bory’ set off by a large boulder. I think that rocks and bamboo look great together.
Bamboo pond in the Temperate Asia Garden. From the identification signs I gathered that this is a mixed grove of Phyllostachys vivax, Phyllostachys flexuosa and Phyllostachys viridis.

Sasa (running)

Sasa is a genus of small running bamboos, mostly from Japan. All sasas have large, wide leaves; some, like Sasa palmata and Sasa megalophylla, have particularly big leaves that rival the Indocalamus genus.

Sasas make good groundcovers and small shrubs since they rarely grow taller than 6 ft.—many are shorter—and they are also well suited for container culture. In fact, since sasas are running bamboos renowned for their vigor, I highly recommend confining them to a pot or tub if you have a small yard. The smaller species can be cut clear to the ground in the spring to reduce their vigor and to enjoy all-new leaves.

Sasas like shade and moisture and are exceptionally hardy, some species down to -10°F.

Sasa veitchii, or kumazasa, is a particularly striking ornamental. In the fall, the leaf margins start to wither, which gives the plant a variegated look. However, since these leaves will continue to die from the outside in and eventually look less than ornamental, many people cut the plant to the ground in the spring. The plant will then grow a fresh crop of all-green leaves which, come fall, with start to wither again.

To me, Sasa veitchii looks best in a naturalistic environment, like here under a tree. I have a young plant in a pot and, isolated like that, the variegated effect of the withering leaf margins is nowhere near as spectacular.

What remains…

What remains after bamboo dies. I have no idea what species this was, but what a cool idea to leave it like this.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Gerhard, enjoying reading your visit and always great to see lovely specimens of bamboos!

  2. I was in the San Francisco Area two years ago and visited several places with bamboo. I missed San Francisco Botanical Garden which was a big mistake, as I can see now. But it gives me good a reason for another visit in California.

    Have you ever been at JP Morgan’s West Coast Headquarters in SF? There is a very nice urban plaza with bamboo and acer worth to visit.

    Greetings from Germany,

  3. Hi Eric,

    I've never been to the JP Morgan West Coast HQ in SF but will put it on my list. Great tip!!

    What other places with bamboo did you visit?

    Greetings back to Germany! I hope the worst of the winter is behind you now. What I was hearing from my family in Germany sounded pretty nasty.

  4. Yes Gerhard, we have a lot of snow over here in Germany. We never had that much for maybe 30 years or so ...

    Other bamboo places I visited during my California Trip:

    - Foothill College Bamboo Garden,
    - The Medical Center Building at Stanford University in Palo Alto,
    - Hakone Gardens in Saratoga,
    - Bamboo Giant in Aptos

    and a few other places down in the South (L.A., San Diego Area).

    Bast wishes for the New Year 2011!


  5. Eric,

    Thank you very much for these tips. I will go on a bamboo photography trip to all these places in the spring.

    Frohes neues Jahr!


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