It may be lucky, but it isn't bamboo
THE BLADE/HERRAL LONG
Giant bamboo is growing up to 30 feet tall in the Toledo Zoo's conservatory.
Can bamboo really be lucky? I'm not so sure. I've received a few e-mails about "lucky bamboo" plants that some readers received for Christmas. The bright, almost leafless green stalks are usually twisted into unique shapes, and the roots are growing in water surrounded by pretty stones. But "lucky bamboo" isn't really bamboo at all.
It's a member of the genus Dracaena that has been stripped of its leaves, and its long stem has been trained to grow into different shapes.
Dracaena has a long, straight stem and palmlike leaves. Some people call it a palm lily or corn plant. Red dracaena, or ti tree (cordyline terminalis) is called a good-luck plant. Its young leaves are pinkish red and as it grows, the leaves turn deep coppery green.
"Lucky bamboo," or dracaena, is easy to care for in a sunny spot in your house. Keep it watered, changing the water once a month. Many times, a plant may not thrive right away if taken out of the water and put in a heavy soil. If you want it to stay small, keep the roots pruned and keep growing it in water. Put it in some light potting soil, and you will see it grow into its true self.
Now, if you want to look at real bamboo that you can plant in your garden, check out the varieties at the Toledo Zoo.
True bamboo in the Phyllostachys genus is like a giant grass and is native to warmer climates, but some varieties will grow here. Bamboo can quickly form a grove or screen by spreading like wildfire underground in a network of rhizomes. Some varieties can grow 70 feet tall.
Toledo Zoo assistant horticulturist Dale Sinkovic gave me a short list of some of the bamboo used on the zoo grounds. Phyllostachys aureosulcata, or yellow groove bamboo, is one of the most common varieties found. It's also called forage bamboo and can grow 30 feet tall. Mr. Sinkovic says Sasa pygmaea, or pygmy bamboo, is one of the best dwarf varieties and Phyllostachys Bissetti, or David Bissett bamboo, is one of the hardiest for this area.
"Pseudosasa japonica, or arrow bamboo, is my personal favorite. It has narrow stems, wider foliage, and is slow to spread," Mr. Sinkovic says.
He says none of these varieties are clumping forms and they require a barrier of at least 24 inches on all sides of the roots to keep the plants contained.
So, is "lucky bamboo" really lucky? I guess that depends on the gardener caring for it. In some cases, "lucky bamboo" might mean that the plant is lucky if it lives for a month or so.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at firstname.lastname@example.org
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