How Bamboo Grows
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 height 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 up to 60 feet or mores 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 height 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 70 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 bamboos I grow are the running type(monopodial). About 100 miles south of me several of the clumping varieties grow well. I’ve grown a few over the years but they always die from a hard frost within a few years.