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Mike's Blog - Day 192

A dead bamboo for you today, Chusquea gigantea from Chile.

We bought this one many years ago when we first planted the bamboo grove down the garden, but we planted this one next to the Monkey Puzzle, aka Chile Pine. We felt we got a bit ripped off at the time as the nurseryman added it to the order saying it’s a one you must have in your collection, so we said yes. When the invoice came it was five times more expensive than any of the others we had chosen for the rest in the collection!

Within a few years though, we could see what he meant. it grew huge and had very impressive stems (culms), lime green with dark joints (nodes). It developed into an impressive plant. I have attached a picture from about 2003/4.

It has died because it simply got to the end of its life and in this and many other species of bamboo there is quite a specific “clock”. We had our plant for about 20 years, but it will have been propagated from a shoot from a parent plant, so the parent plant and anything propagated from it will all have died at the same time.

Of course it’s not really “dead”, as they flower only the once, marking the end of their life. This is a giant woody grass, so the flowers are not spectacular, much like any other grass you find in a field or roadside. The flowers produce masses of seeds and, as you can see, we have plenty of seedlings starting to grow to take its place.

In the wild I believe there are two advantages to this. Firstly, the new seedlings have plenty of light and moisture as there is now a space, otherwise they would never grow in deep dark shade and get little water. The other thing is this “clock” is quite accurate and masses of bamboo flower all at once, whole mountain sides and valleys. Vermin, i.e. rats, eat the seed, but there is so much some of it gets to germinate and grow before being eaten.

I understand that in some parts of the world this mass flowering is dreaded. The rats breed in proportion to the amount of food available, but of course it then runs out. At this point plagues of rats search for food, and infest villages - a so called “rat flood”. In some countries where this happens, locals are paid a reward per rat tail to encourage them to catch the rats.

Don’t follow these links if you don’t like rats!

BBC:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9198000/9198744.stm

National Geographic (Rat Tails):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63QOBq08Fxk