From Flowers
to Seedlings
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Promoting the Beauty and Utility of Bamboo

From Flowers to Seedlings

Betty Shor
Southern California Chapter

Frequently a bamboo plant looks very poor for several months before it goes to flower. It doesn't put up new shoots, and its leaves are smaller than usual, sort of wilting. The flowers appear at the tip of long branches from the main culm (stalk). (Note: Bambusa oldhami puts up new short stalks near the base that hold its flowers, which are apparently infertile.)

Flowers

The flowers are in clusters, which look like a head of wheat or any wild grass. When the flowers open, what show up especially are the anthers, which hold the pollen and extend out from the flower head; they may be yellow or red. The petals are small, usually white. The flowers are complete, not separately male and female. Most bamboos are wind-pollinated. Insects may be involved with some species. Apparently a single plant can set seeds (self-pollination); having another of the same species nearby is not necessary. However, with many bamboos, the set of seed is very small in comparison with the number of flowers. Sometimes one can feel one seed pod after another repeatedly without finding any seeds, or just one or two. Some growers plant the entire mass of seed head, chaff and all.

Seeds

It is many weeks from the time the flowers open until the seeds are set. One checks on this by feeling the flower heads by hand, At about the time the seeds are set and dried, the flower head is also dry and brown. In the seed heads the seeds feel (and look) like grains of rice. (Note: some bamboos have larger seeds, even up to the size of peanuts; the extreme is Melocanna baccifera, native to India, which has seeds as large as small pears, and they hurt when they fall on one's head!)

If one wants seedlings, the seeds should be planted as soon as they have dried on the plant, because the viability of bamboo seeds drops off very rapidly with time.

Planting Seeds

For a detailed description by a professional grower, see "Raising Bamboo from Seed" by Gib Cooper in BAMBOO, August 2005, Vol, 26, Issue 4, p. 14.

I use a simpler system, but I don't always get results (and Cooper does). My planting site is a plastic-covered unheated plant room; we don't get frost in our locale.  I use a mixture of Supersoil™, and about one-quarter plaster sand, in small plastic pots. I wet the soil thoroughly, sprinkle the seeds on top, cover just barely with more soil, and wet that a little. I keep the soil slightly damp, not soggy, until the seeds sprout. With many bamboos the seeds sprout in about three weeks, but some take much longer. (Cooper has had seeds sprout a year after planting!) Bamboo seedlings look like blades of grass — which is no surprising as bamboos are in the grass family. They are monocotyledons, which sprout with one leaf.

Transplanting Seedlings

When the seedlings are about two inches tall in the seed container, I transplant them singly into 4-inch pots, using the same soil mix. Then I fertilize the small plants, usually with long-lasting fertilizer (18-6-12). I keep the soil damp (not soggy!) as the plants grow. In warm weather they can be outdoors, but they must not be allowed to dry out. The plants can be transferred to one-gallon containers in about a year.

What Will Happen to the Flowering Plant?

The plant that flowers may die. But not all of them do; flowering plants of some species do recover, sometimes slowly. If you continue with the same care that you have been giving the plant, you still cannot prevent it from dying if that is its nature. But don't give up on it promptly, because the underground portion may still be viable; wait a few months to be certain it is dead.


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