Thursday, June 10, 2010

Big Bamboo

Stroll in and around the grounds of Pacific Science Center and you might notice that we showcase a variety of plants – but especially numerous varieties of bamboo. Why bamboo? Jeff Leonard, our Supervisor of Horticulture, noted bamboo enthusiast, and member of the American Bamboo Society finds that many species of these plants happily thrive in our Northwest climate.

Take a tour!

Go into Pacific Science Center at the Denny Way entrance and you will encounter our largest bamboo species, Phyllostacys vivax or Chinese timber. This hardy bamboo has been known to grow over 18 meters tall in Seattle with culms (living canes) 15 cm in diameter! Jeff estimates that new shoots grow about a meter a week!

Surrounding the Chinese timber you’ll find 60 cm tall “leptomorphic” or running bamboo plants, Pleioblastus humilis, dwarf humilis. Running bamboos spread by means of rhizomes. This species is often used for ground cover and erosion control.

Once inside Pacific Science Center’s grounds and out on the pads you’ll find two more bamboo species. The planter closest to Building 1 is home to Phyllostachys aureosulcata, yellow groove bamboo. Their culms are green with yellow sulcus (grooves) where the new branches emerge. Some culms may appear purple because of a deficiency of phosphorus, which is not available in soil at temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

On the east side of the Adobe Laserdome you’ll find three planters of Fargesia nitida, blue fountain bamboo. All bamboo of the genus Fargesia are “pachymorphic” or clumping bamboos. These plants prefer shade and are therefore situated away from the afternoon sun. Pandas love this bamboo and it’s a dominant species in their habitat.

To finish your tour, visit the Tropical Butterfly House. Once inside, by the east wall you will find a subtropical clumping bamboo, Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr', commonly known as Alphonse Karr bamboo. This plant has beautifully striped culms but is not extremely cold hardy. The wood is a favorite among crafters and furniture makers.

Jeff explains his love for bamboo:
I became fascinated with bamboo while watching a large stand move in heavy wind. It was to me like a huge, ferocious animal domesticated each time the wind died. It can be domesticated! Bamboo has incredible attributes for Pacific Northwest landscaping.
Visit Pacific Science Center to get your full bamboo experience and check out our other fine plants as well!

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