The Age of Grasses

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a path at Bamboo Giant Nursery

My Story about Bamboo

So part of the reason I like bamboo so much (besides the fact that it’s awesome) is that it was the first plant that I started to propagate and sell for cash. The story goes like this.

Once upon a time my Dad went through a Japanese Garden phase, (which is probably the root of my affinity for Japanese gardens), and planted some bamboo next to the patio of the house I grew up in. It was planted in a metal partition that was intended to keep this very aggressive bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) from spreading. But after my Mom and Dad separated and my sis and I went away to college, the yard went feral. Of course the bamboo burst through the partition and started taking over the yard, sending shoots up over fifty feet away from the original planting. Every once in a while the rhizomes would even make it all the way under the house and send up shoots in the front yard.

For years I went over to help my aging mother with the yard maintenance, and I would just cut the bamboo down, and sometimes even dig up the rhizomes. Sometimes I would just grab a stalk of bamboo and start ripping up the long underground roots, like pulling frayed carpet fibers away from the carpet backing. When I was done I would just throw all the boo into the green waste. Then one day I decided to try to put the rhizomes in pots to transplant them. After some simple trial an error in methodology and substrate I achieved a success rate of about 90% with my divisions. I would mix in a lot of sand into the soil mix to help increase drainage, which is very important for almost all species of bamboo. I would go to the dollar store and buy gallon dish tubs, because the bamboo grew better in wide, shallow containers.

Soon I began selling divisions of Golden Bamboo (P. aurea) on Craig’s List, planted in dish tubs, and returned to my Mom’s house about once  a month to restock my supply. I also started selling other plants on Craig’s, but the bamboo was my biggest and most expensive plant for sale. I made almost $1000 selling bamboo in one summer. Not exactly the summer job I had in mind, but from there things started spiraling out of control, not unlike the rhizomes of bamboo tangling through the soil in my Mother’s backyard.

Now, 10 years later, I am a complete plant junkie. I still have many of the divisions of golden bamboo that I dug up. I don’t sell them anymore. Instead I planted them in large pots, and they are all bushy and 8-10 feet tall. They are waiting patiently, I feel, for a careless moment when they can escape their container and begin taking over my yard, the state of California, and eventually the entire planet. I’ve thought about planting some in the earth, but decided I was tired of  breaking shovels trying to dig bamboo out of the ground. For now at least.

Bamboo has gotten such a bad rap as being invasive and rampant, and in many cases its true. Golden Bamboo is considered an invasive weed in many areas, and seeing how it started sending a web of rhizomes out through my Mom’s yard I can understand why.

I’ve also heard it said that if bamboo is so invasive then it would have taken over the world by now. But it is important to remember that the grass family (Poaceae) is relatively new in the plant kingdom, rising to its peculiar prominence during the most recent Cenozoic era. The Cenozoic is commonly known as the ’Age of Mammals’ (with our fauna-centric view of the world), but it could just as easily be called the ’Age of Grasses’. Even though Mammalia is a Class (K-P-Class-O-Family-G-S) and Poaceae is a family (two steps lower on the taxonomic hierarchy), there are twice as many identified species of grass than species of mammals. In fact, familyPoaceae is the fifth largest plant family, and three of the four most important food crops are grasses, not to mention the forage grasses provide for domesticated livestock. Grasses have not only drastically changed the course of human evolution, but the evolution of the entire planet as well.

Bamboo may still take over the world yet. It’s just getting up to speed. All it needs is another million years.

don’t let it escape!

 

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