Bamboo: The beautiful grass that thinks it’s a tree

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Bamboo may be one of the most underutilized category of landscaping plants in Florida. To be in the midst of a bamboo grove is to experience a type of sanctuary that can strike a deep emotional chord that resonates with many people.

While bamboo has a reputation for invasiveness (it is true that some kinds do spread quite aggressively) there is a whole different category of bamboos that grow in clumps rather than spread by running. These are usually tropical or subtropical varieties of bamboo, making them ideal landscape plants.

Bamboo is a member of the grass family. It represents the grass family's way of producing tree-sized plants that can compete with trees in jungle and forest environments. There are over a thousand different species of bamboo in the world, with a tremendous diversity of sizes, growth habits, and environmental preferences. The largest grow to 120 feet tall with twelve inch diameter canes; the smallest are creeping ground covers barely a few inches tall.

So how long does it take to reach full size? It depends on the plants’ starting size and the species. Depending on the variety, a 3-gallon pot can reward the home gardener with impressive growth in as few as two-five years’ time. Clumping bamboos have a number of other virtues beyond their lack of invasiveness. The tight growing habit of the clumpers creates wonderful shade and makes them an outstanding visual screen and sound barrier. A wall of evergreen foliage provides unparalleled privacy as well as beauty.

With so many options, there are ideal varieties for nearly every application. Choosing the right varieties for screening and hedging will solve privacy issues better than any other plant material. Some of the ornamental bamboos make a stunning landscape statement. Most varieties work well in a mixed tropical garden. They are also amazingly resilient plants. They tend to bend in strong winds without breaking – a bonus in hurricane-prone climates. There are several groves of bamboo on display around Selby Gardens -- many were originally planted by Marie Selby nearly 100 years ago. She planted them to block what she considered an unappealing view of development occurring across Sarasota Bay from her home.

Learn more about these fascinating plants by visiting the Gardens soon or visiting us online. The bamboo along the Bay provide a natural frame for prime fireworks viewing on the 4th of July too!