First bamboo shoot of the year

It’s late January, and some of our bamboos will soon start to produce shoots. Typically, the earliest shooting species in our yard are Fargesia dracocephela ‘Rufa’ and Fargesia robusta, two clumping mountain bamboos from China. These two are no doubt busy developing shoots which will soon rise from the ground like an army of zombies. (Man, where did that muddled metaphor come from?)

Yellow Buddha Belly (Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’)

However, this year the first bamboo to shoot is yellow Buddha Belly (Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’), planted in a large pot on our back yard patio. This is especially surprising since it’s a subtropical clumping bamboo that typically shoots in the summer and fall, triggered in its native habitat by the onset of the monsoon season. Maybe it has to do with all the rain we had in late December? Whatever the cause, this early shoot is a vivid reminder that bamboo manages to surprise even people who think they know a thing or two about this remarkable grass family.

Buddha Belly shoot poking out of the ground

Yellow Buddha Belly, like its all-green sibling, is renowned for its swollen internodes—the sections between the nodes (rings) along its culms. These “bellies” typically appear when the plant is grown in a hot and exposed area and starved of water and nutrients. In containers it is easier to force the growing conditions needed to produce this swelling. However, as I learned from personal experience, it’s rather difficult to find the ideal balance between keeping the plant dry enough so bellies develop and withholding too much water, in which case the leaves dry up and fall off. It’s a good thing that bamboos are resilient and quickly replace dead leaves as soon as watering is resumed.

The most pronounced bellies on our specimen are on the original culms; the new culms show just a hint of bulging. I’m very curious to see if I can get our plant to reliably produce bellies as it matures.

“Bellies” on yellow Buddha Belly

Specimens that exhibit the belly effect are significantly shorter (a maximum of 12-15 ft, with 8 ft being typical). Planted in the ground and given regular water, however, Bambusa ventricosa is a large clumping timber bamboo that can reach 55 ft. In that case, its culms are straight, with no bulging.

I do admit that I was drawn to this bamboo species because of the swollen internodes. I will continue my quest to force bellies even though I do feel a bit like a torture master!

All-green buddha belly bamboo with swollen internodes at Mad Man Bamboo


  1. Although I can't grow this one here, I don't know if I would if I could. One of bamboo's attractive qualities is that it's dead simple to grow. The fact that I could treat this plant "wrong" and it wouldn't produce the feature that makes it most attractive (the swollen "bellies") would worry me. I don't like plants that I need to worry about.

    You'll have to report back later this year after you see how many bellied culms you get.

  2. Who am I kidding -- if it were a little more cold-hardy, I'd definitely give it a try. I can't resist adding more species of bamboo to my collection! =)
    It's not work, it's gardening!

  3. We will have a warm afternoon so I will go inspect the bamboos and see if any are making the mistake of sprouting in this "warmer" weather. Might hit 60 today and then the temps will be dropping again.

  4. Alan, I'm glad you fessed up :-). The more challenging a plant is, the more we are attracted to it, right?

  5. Smarter than the average bear. Didn't find any shoots, luckily, supposed to have snow tonight! One of the small ones, fargesia denudata, by the split rail fence is not looking good. Supposedly hardy to -10* and we haven't been that cold. All the rest seem to be doing well!

  6. New shoots are a fab sight, especially some bamboos have got really colourful shoots and sheaths :)

    Buddha Belly bamboo is surprisingly root hardy but top growth is tender. Takes a long time to recover though.


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