shorter growing Fargesia rufa
the yellow stems of Fargesia robusta are similar in tone to those of F. denudata
Fargesia nitida is discussed at length in a separate article in PLANT PORTRAITS
Fargesia -The Obedient Bamboo
Fargesia is the only genus of bamboo with a clumping habit. Unlike its larger cousins, the Phyllostachys being one of the best known among them, Fargesia does not run. Growing in much the same manner as Giant Eulalia or Silver Maiden Grasses narrow fish hooks as germinal, fibrous rhizomes grow just above the roots underground. These ensure densely set culms (bamboos' stems) on a slowly broadening but not aggressively spreading plant.
Leaves are simple blades gently displayed at tips of finely branched stems often set in a horizontal arc from the culm. En masse they appear soft and beautiful. Foliage occurs upon the upper two-thirds of shrubs. Showy culms are generally bare and densely set from the crown to where the foliage begins to erupt.
These grass relatives live long. Fargesia nitida, the Blue Fountain Bamboo, will live one hundred twenty years before flowering. Monocarpic, all bamboo flowers but once then dies. Fargesia is a crucial food for pandas. When flowering results there is wholesale population die-off. Beloved pandas suffer greatly during these critical moments. However, with life expectancy of more than a century before flowering these magnificent grass relatives offer seeming perpetual elegance in the landscape and rarely interrupted nourishment for pandas in the wild.
From mountainous regions in China into the Himalayas they are understory plants requiring shade, light to dappled is best. Though they will tolerate morning sun their leaves will curl in a self-protective effort if planted in hot afternoon exposures. The following are garden-worthy species.
Fargesia denudata is a semi-weeping clumper with golden culms and stout branchlets. Commonly called the Naked Clumping Bamboo, this species is more sun tolerant than the others but too much harsh afternoon sun is ill-advised. It grows ten to fifteen feet tall. Foliage is rich, glossy green.
Height x Width: 10 to 15 feet x clumping
USDA Hardiness Zone: (5b)6 to 8(9)
The Dragon’s Head Bamboo, Fargesia dracocephala, is also more sun tolerant with lacquered leaves. Growing 8 to 10 feet tall at maturity with wider girth, its foliage is glossy. Dragon's Head Bamboo will grow eight to ten feet tall and with gentle weep exhibit wider girth.
Height x Width: 8 to 10 feet x clumping
USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a to 9
Origins: Central China
Fargesia murielae is the Umbrella Bamboo. Fargesia murielae, likely the hardiest of the genus, naturally occurs above the ten thousand-foot mark in China. The arching culms are gentle and soft in the shade garden cloaked in light green matte-finished leaflets. A glaucous bluish-white bloom is noticeable on young culms. Use it as a specimen, screen or backdrop for deciduous woodland denizens. F. murielae ‘Humboldt’ is a dwarf selection growing five feet, perhaps a little bit taller.
Height x Width: 8 feet x clumping
USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b to 8
The golden culms of Fargesia robusta may achieve breadth of one inch diameter on mature plants. Fargesia robusta from the Sichuan Province tends to be more of an upright grower, up to sixteen feet, cloaked in glossy green foliage. As the plant achieves some size it begins to weep more giving credence to its common name, the Umbrella Bamboo which is also the common name for F. murielae. A different, less confusing moniker is Robust Bamboo... F. robusta is robust! An especially nice selection is 'Wolong' with especially beautiful, glossy, deep rich green leaves which are larger than the species. Vibrant growing, this bamboo is tolerant of more sun.
Height x Width: 14 to 16 feet x clumping
USDA Hardiness Zone: (5b)6 to 8
Origins: Sichuan Province
Fargesia rufa is a robust, shorter growing Mountain Bamboo. The branchlets are pink, a delicate and lovely tint on yellow stems. The foliage is rich glossy green – a handsome clumper, indeed. Mountain Bamboo is also somewhat more sun tolerant. Mountain Bamboo has tended to hold its emerald green leaves longer into the fall and sometimes early winter in northeastern Connecticut than its cousins. Lovely Fargesia rufa is smaller growing, its yellow culms reaching 5 feet here but may grow a bit taller when grown in the warmer end of its range.
Height x Width: 5 to 6 feet x clumping
USDA Hardiness Zone: 5 to 8
Fargesia nitida is discussed in a separate article. Just go back to PLANT PORTRAITS and click on "Fargesia nitida - The Obedient Blue Fountain Bamboo".
Glaring afternoon sun for hours on end is an anathema even for those few species more tolerant of solar rays. Avoid locations too wet or too dry; constantly moist loam will keep them happy. Mature plants will tolerate some drought. Plants subjected to lengthy, punishing drought will suffer unless supplemented with life affirming replenishment.
In the northeastern hills of Connecticut Fargesias remain green well into December turning a straw color come January. Spent leaves and culm sheaths tend to litter the ground around their base forming an attractive ecru natural mulch that tends to stay put. This feature depending upon ones aesthetic can be beautiful in fall and winter. And when capturing winter sun casts soft light and contrast to darker figures in the fairyland of the woodland realm. Mild spells during the coldest, shortest days of the calendar culms surprise us by unfurling some green leaves on branchlets as if by magic. In full leaf Fargesia dancing in breezes will transfix you. This dance is magical and mesmerizing.
In the north spring planting is strongly recommended. When planting Fargesia I would suggest that one plant a solid three feet from the walkway's perimeter or EPDM liner of a man-made pool. Remember that though they are not aggressive spreaders they do slowly gradually broaden with age. They could conceivably buckle a walkway or impact a pool liner in time. As with interment of any plant common sense engaged and an understanding of growth habit must be considered.
If I have assuaged your skepticism then consider Fargesia. They may not offer the culm size of the larger growing species. On the other hand the obedient bamboo is casually elegant and won't offend your neighbors complacency. Place one as a specimen near a water feature, at the edge of the woods or in the midst of a grove. Plant many in a jazzy, irregular row as a gorgeous screen or hedge. In any incarnation for a touch of refined grace plant Fargesia for they are beautiful. You’ll be glad you did.
penned by Wayne Paquette, March 2015