It is amazing to me still that few people know the genus Fargesia. There are few plants that can rival the merits of this woody grass: fast-growing, cold-tolerant, evergreen, shade-tolerant, deer-resistant. A perfect under-story screening, the leafy stems sway in the slightest breeze and bend but don’t break under snow cover. I need to first tell you that I am just way-tired of all the bamboo horror stories of bamboos invading suburban yards. The general misconception of such bad behavior needs to be re-directed to the negligent homeowners. These so-called “invasive” bamboos are LEPTOMORPH: having monopodial running rhizomes like many kinds of turf grass. These bamboos can spread vigorously and definitely need to be managed. All species of Phyllostachys, Sasa, Shibataea, Pseudosasa and Pleioblastus are RUNNING bamboos. (Unfortunately these are the bamboos most of the general public know and are afraid of!)
The Fargesia are bamboos which are PACHYMORPH: having sympodial clumping roots like the ornamental grass, Panicum. These bamboos enlarge slowly, forming a dense clump. The only genus of cold-hardy bamboos is Fargesia. [ Nomenclature note: taxonomists are struggling with a sub-section of Fargesia, so you may see some listed as the genus Borinda. However, Borinda are much less cold-hardy than Fargesia. ]
So, Fargesia are perennial woody evergreen grasses. They evolved primarily as under-story plants in the mountain forests of China, living under pines on slopes and along streams. Neighbors include the well-known garden plants of rhododendron and hydrangea, and mahonia.
Until recently, there were only a couple of species of Fargesia available to the American garden, imported over a hundred years ago from wild-collected plants originating from China. Within the species, F. nitida, multiple clones were in cultivation, showing varying forms and diversity. However within the past 5 years, most of these clones have begun flowering, which in the case of this species, is monocarpic, resulting in death of the plant. Needless to say, this is not a desired phenomenon in the garden landscape. Resulting from these mass flowerings, new genotypes arise. Very few have made it to the trade, as field-testing and selection takes many years.
For many decades, only one other Fargesia was available for home gardeners. Fargesia murieliae, which was the original collection of E.H. Wilson. Only one genotype was in cultivation, and all specimens flowered and died in the 1990s. Resulting from this flowering are many un-named seedlings, and they vary widely in their characteristics.
Other types of Fargesia that have been cultivated over the past 10 years in the U.S. include the following forms. These are great additions to the palette of woody plants – not to be confused with ornamental grasses, since these are indeed evergreen, permanent additions which mix well with traditional plants like rhododendron and hemlock as understory screen plants or single specimens.
This species is not well-known, yet it has the most beautiful arching habit and tolerates not only the frozen winters but heat and humidity. It was first introduced by UK plant guru Roy Lancaster, coming from northern Sichuan and southern Gansu, China. It can reach a height of 15 feet, but normally some like 10 ft. under average conditions. USDA cold hardiness zone 5-9.
Fargesia robusta ‘Pingwu’ Green Screen™
This clone has been cultivated as Fargesia robusta ‘Pingwu’ in Europe for over a decade. It is very upright, with persistent culm sheaths that add spring interest and texture. A clumping bamboo perfect for use as a hedge or screening plant, it has the great benefit of its non-invasive root system and robust size. This exciting new bamboo holds up well in the heat and humidity of the Southeastern U. S., unlike other Fargesia types. The maximum height is 18 ft. and USDA cold hardiness zone 6-9.
Fargesia rufa ‘Oprins Selection’ Green Panda™
This selection was cultivated as Fargesia ‘Rufa’ in Europe for several years. Oprins Plant NV received a new plant introduction award at Boskoop in Holland for this form in 2003. Subsequently, it was introduced into the U.S. in 2003 as Green Panda™. This clumping, non-invasive bamboo is extremely cold hardy and heat tolerant, and has enormous potential in landscapes across North America and Canada. It grows into a large clump (6-8 ft wide) with arching stems. The maximum height is 10 ft. maximum and culm diameter is 0.5 inches. USDA hardiness zone 5-9. Originally from Gansu, China, it is a favorite food of the giant panda. Remarkably, this form grows well in shade as well as full sun. It can grow in a wide variety of environments, from Atlanta to Boston to Chicago to Portland, Oregon.
Fargesia scabrida ‘Oprins Selection’ Asian Wonder™
A new introduction originating also from China, this clumping bamboo has an interesting overall character of very narrow leaves and a graceful appearance. Stems show great color, with orange culm sheaths and steely-blue new culms (stems). Culms mature to olive green. Maximum height is approximately 16 ft. USDA zone 5-8. This bamboo prefers sun to partial shade.
Propagation of temperate bamboos can be accomplished by traditional vegetative division, by seed (when available), or via micro propagation or “in vitro” tissue culture. Traditional vegetation is the most simple and the most widely used method, however it is both labor sensitive and time-sensitive, as the plants are quite vulnerable to stress during their active shooting periods. Seed propagation is rare due to the irregular and/or infrequent flowering cycles of most bamboos.
In vitro micro-propagation of bamboo is by far the best method for mass-production, although the technique is very difficult, with very specific protocols for each species and form. Micro-propagation can be done from seeds or from meristematic tissue, and from type species or selected clones. Micro-propagation (tissue culture) is simply taking a small piece of a plant and multiplying more plants from that small piece.
It takes about 9 months from initiation of the meristematic tissue to a rooted plug, and approximately and additional 3-6 months from a rooted plug into a gallon-size pot for a saleable plant capable of withstanding installation into the landscape. Best time to plant in the landscape is spring.
The genus Fargesia contains wonderful types and forms of non-invasive bamboo that can enhance landscapes across many temperate zones, adding unique texture and year-round appeal as a vigorous evergreen with versatility and function. Let’s look outside the box at the potential of these well-behaved bamboos in our landscapes, and consider Fargesia as a different kind of evergreen for hedges, for screens, or simply as an elegant specimen.
Susanne Lucas, Horticulturist
Pioneer Plants, LLC. www.BambooSelect.us
9 Bloody Pond Road, Plymouth, MA 02360 USA firstname.lastname@example.org
Pachymorph root system – see how compact?
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