Bamboo Growth Cycle

Bamboo produces new shoots in the spring that will become new canes (culms). A significant percentage of new shoots won’t make it. They will get a few inches tall and stop growing. The new bamboo canes will grow for a couple of months until they reach their maximum heigth and diameter. This means a cane that is going to be 4 inches in diameter will come out of the ground that big around and grow to 60 feet plus in about 8 weeks. They will never grow taller or larger than they are after that spurt of growth in one spring. Each cane may live for up to ten years. The bamboo grove changes leaves in the spring with new leaves slowly replacing old ones.

Bamboo grows from a network of rhizomes. Although some people call these roots they are actually a type of modified, underground stem. Culms and roots grow from the rhizomes. When you see a grove of bamboo it is much like one large plant. In the spring new culms (canes) sprout from this network of rhizomes. The sprouts, or shoots, come out of the ground full sized (diameter) and reach their maximum heigth within a couple of months. When the grove of bamboo is still young, “full size” may only be a few feet tall. Once the grove has matured and has a large number of canes, then “full size” can be a cane several inches in diameter and 25 to 65 feet tall! (depending on the species) It’s easy to see why bamboo is often said to be the fastest growing plant. Some shoots can grow as much as 2 feet or more in 24 hours. Each individual culm (cane) will live from 5 to 10 years.

There are more than 1400 species of bamboo. The bamboo family is roughly divided into two groups according to their rhizomes. Sympodial (clumping species), and monopodial(running). Almost all of the clumpers are tropical or sub-tropical although a few such as Fargesias, are extremely cold hardy. Many runners are hardy down to -10 degrees F. or lower. Hardy means that they will stay green and leafy down to the rated temperature. Living in Alabama, zone 7b, all the bamboo I grow is the running type(monopodial). Well actually, I grow a few clumpers just for fun but have to move them into the greenhouse each winter. I’ve got plantings of Bambusa multiplex and B.m.’Alfonse Karr’ in the ground but most ever winter they are heavily damaged by the cold (or killed to the ground) and come back from the rhizomes. Because of this they never get more than a few feet tall.