Running bamboo specie selection

Phyllostachys atrovaginata

Commonly called “Incense” bamboo, it has a sandalwood fragrance, especially when the canes are rubbed in warm weather.  Atrovaginata is one of the most versatile running bamboos.  It has large canes like a timber bamboo and can be thinned out to form a grove of evenly spaced canes.  But it also makes a great screen like some of the smaller caned species as the canes grow densely packed together.  Like most other Phyllostachys the branches start higher up the culm, the larger the cane the higher up they will start.  This gives a good view of the dark green evenly tapered canes up to about 4-6′ until the branches start.  One of the more upright bamboos with strong straight canes good for harvesting.  It can also be planted in wetter areas as the rhizomes have air canals which allow it to tolerate wetter conditions than many other bamboos.  One of our favorites for the look, the versatile planting uses, and very rapid growth.  More photos and description from Bamboo Garden.

  • Height 20′-30 sometimes slightly taller
  • Width can form large grove or 3-4′ wide screen, needs room to get big
  • Canes up to 2.5″ possibly larger
  • Leaves typical Phyllostacys size .75″ x 3-4″
  • Sun tolerance full sun to partial shade

Phyllostachys dulcis

Commonly called “Sweet Shoot”, named for its tasty young shoots.  One of the best bamboos for forming a grove as the large diameter canes look best when spaced out, can be a good screen, but several feet of width is needed. It looks very similar to the more commonly seen Ph. vivax, though the canes have a faster taper, and are more resilient.  A very fast grower, forming large canes quickly.  It typically stays under 30′ tall, which is unusual for such a large caned bamboo as height is proportional to cane diameter.  Because of this feature it can be used where other taller bamboos would look out of place or cast too much shade.  More photos and description from Bamboo Garden.

  • Height 25′-30′ sometimes slightly taller
  • Width at least 6′ diameter for an open grove
  • Canes up to 3″ but can be larger at the base
  • Leaves typical Phyllostachys .75 x 4″-5″ sometimes slightly bigger
  • Sun tolerance loves full sun can be grown in open shade

Phyllostachys nigra

Called black bamboo for its dark black canes.  Canes start out green for the first year, aging to a jet black within three years.  The transition from green to black can make an interesting mottled pattern.  It often grows densely with a V shape, though with good soil and sun it can spread out and grow bigger canes.  Makes a good screen or a stand alone specimen or focal point.  Regular thinning and cutting of the lower branches can help to show off the canes as it can tend to be congested and bushy with little care.  Canes are strong and versatile and retain the dark color when dried.  There seem to be several different strains of nigra as some turn dark more quickly or thoroughly.  There has been a recent flowering of some of these strains, though it does not appear to have affected all of them.  Good container plant, especially for accents. The contrast between container color, dark canes and deep green leaves can be very appealing.   More photos and description from Bamboo Garden.

  • Height 20′-25′ sometimes up to 30′ under good conditions in the Northwest.
  • Width can be used as narrow screen or grove
  • Canes up to 2″ but can be larger
  • Leaves typical Phyllostachys .75 x 4″-5″ dark green with good fertilizer
  • Sun tolerance full sun can be grown in open shade

Phyllostachys bambusoides “All Gold”

The rich, deep yellow-gold color of the canes light up dark spaces and contrast well with its leaves and other plants.  They look brilliant in direct sun, glowing as the hollow chamber seems to emit light.  This is not a very fast growing bamboo and new shoots emerge late in the season.  Because of the slow growth it should be planted as large and mature specimens.  It is also a relatively slow spreader, easily managed.  While it can be grown in fairly deep shade, and looks good because of the luminous quality of the canes, it will perform better with lots of sun.  More photos and description from Bamboo Garden.

  • Height 20′-25′
  • Width can be narrow or broad
  • Canes up to 2″
  • Leaves typical Phyllostachys .75 x 4″-5″ can have occasional light colored variegation
  • Sun tolerance full sun to mostly shade

Phyllostachys aureosulcata “Spectabilis”

This has become one of the most popular bamboos due to its unique qualities.  Its canes are a pale yellow color with consistent green stripes which alternate sides.  The canes also have an occasional random zig-zag close to the base.  With good sun exposure the new shoots can add to the dynamic look as they  emerge with deep burgundy or magenta highlights.  This fades over the summer, but can give even more contrast to the already interesting canes.  Its upright habit and dense cane spacing makes for good screens or specimens.  It can also grow fairly tall in containers.  Fast reliable growth, hardiness, early shooting and spectacular colors make this a very easy and rewarding plant. More photos and description from Bamboo Garden.

  • Height 20′-25′
  • Width can be used as narrow screen or grove
  • Canes 1.5″ occasionally larger
  • Leaves typical Phyllostachys .75 x 4″-5″
  • Sun tolerance full sun to light shade

Phyllostachys aurea

This is a very common bamboo, but very versatile.  It’s best use is probably as a screen as the canes grow close together, are upright, and can have dense branching almost all the way to the ground.  It can also be showy when the lower branches are removed to expose the condensed inner nodes which have a scrunched knobby appearance.  Colored varieties can add variety, they can be yellow or striped.  It is one of the shorter runners here in the Northwest, typically 15′-20′, colored varieties on the shorter side.  It is upright, reliable, relatively slow spreading and drought tolerant when established. It responds well to being topped or trimmed.  Good in containers, screens, and specimens, with interesting cut canes. Do not be alarmed as it can loose more leaves than most phyllostachys, especially in the spring as it makes way for new growth, this is natural and not a sign of ill health.  More photos and description from Bamboo Garden.

  • Height 15′-20′ can be kept shorter
  • Width makes a tight, narrow screen
  • Canes 1.5″-2″ at base with rapid taper
  • Leaves typical Phyllostachys .75 x 4″-5″
  • Sun tolerance full sun to mostly shade

Honorable mention

There are a number of green caned bamboos, mostly for screening use that should be considered, but they do not have the outstanding qualities of the above.  They have slight variations to distinguish between them, but are generally between 20′-30′ tall and have green canes, some are slightly larger or more upright.

  • Phyllostachys bisettii one of the shorter, upright, good in containers, very hardy. Bamboo Garden description found here.
  • Phyllostachys decora mid sized, green, can have upright or sometimes leaning canes, hardy, attractive. Bamboo Garden description found here.
  • Phyllostachys heteroclada, mid sized, air canals in rhizomes, very upright, sometimes has few low branches, very fast grower. Descriptions here.
  • Phyllostachys nuda, mid sized, darkest green canes with a white ring on new culms, early shoots, very hardy, can sometimes lean. Description here.

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